"Shakespeare in Love"

A historical romance made up out of whole cloth -- as if that mattered.


Stephanie Zacharek
June 30, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

"Shakespeare in Love"
Directed by John Madden
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush
Miramax Collector's Series; widescreen, 2.35:1
Extras: Shakespeare-in-film documentary, costumes documentary, deleted scenes, more

"Shakespeare in Love," a vastly fictional speculation about what it must have been like for the young William Shakespeare to be broke, lonely and suffering from writer's block, reaps back in pure charm and self-referential wit whatever it might forfeit in historical accuracy. Joseph Fiennes brings matinee-idol good looks to his portrayal of young Will, but he has a meltingly sincere sensuality as well. And Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, a young woman who loves the theater so much that she disguises herself as a boy to earn a role, is more than just radiant; her performance is deft and delicate, giving off light like a field of fireflies on a summer night, and also touchingly open-hearted. When her nurse summons her after her first night with Will, informing her it's a new day, she replies, with an almost spellbound delight that's probably familiar to anyone who has ever been in love, "It is a new world." The love scenes between Paltrow and Fiennes don't throw off anything quite as gaudy as sparks; instead, they glow with a quiet, luminous shimmer.

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The documentary included with the deluxe DVD, "Shakespeare in Love and on Film," features the comments of co-writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard and director John Madden, and intercuts scenes from "Shakespeare in Love" with snippets from a number of other Shakespeare adaptations on film, including Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" and Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet." It tries to cover an enormous amount of ground and succeeds only sketchily (and Stoppard, it should be noted, is barely featured), but it does offer a few interesting tidbits that most people who aren't Shakespeare scholars wouldn't know: For instance, Norman notes that in Elizabethan England, everyone who wanted to see a certain play would see it within three or four days. Therefore, most plays would be rehearsed for three days and then have only a three-day run. "Which means," he adds, "that you're putting up 'Hamlet' in three days."

A shorter documentary featuring costume designer Sandy Powell is the real treat among the DVD extras. One short clip shows Paltrow looking antsy and tired as she's being pinned into a gorgeous but clearly heavy gold brocade dress -- proof that looking like a princess is harder work than it's cracked up to be.


Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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