Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Clandestine Affair with "Shakespeare in Love"

I intended to write a proper review of "Shakespeare in Love," which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1999, as a way of celebrating this Academy Award week.

But then a funny thing happened. I watched it again. And I found myself falling in love with "Shakespeare in Love" all over again, to the point where I was dreading writing about it, because I didn't want to share it. I just wanted to luxuriate in this affair for awhile, private and secret and special, and keep the rest of the world outside.

So I'm not going to write a proper review. I'm going to luxuriate instead.

On paper, "Shakespeare in Love" was perfect for me from the beginning. It's got Shakespeare, of course, which definitely pulls me in, and even better, he's shown as a young, impetuous, passionate playwright, spilling over with words even as he's blocked. He's also shown, you know, writing his own plays, so that's a bonus.

Plus Tom Stoppard, another brilliant writer, worked on the script. Stoppard and Marc Norman, the guy who had the idea in the first place, have never said who wrote what, but I choose to believe that everything I love the most in this clever, giddy, achingly romantic movie is Stoppard's work. So sue me. When you're in love, you get to be crazy like that.

And then there's Joseph Fiennes, who is pretty clever and achingly romantic himself. I hope Will Shakespeare was really like Joseph Fiennes. Wouldn't that be lovely? Millions of people have fallen in love with Shakespeare's words, as his characters came alive on the page or on the stage. But Joseph Fiennes and his ink-stained fingers bring it to a whole different level. Okay, fine. It's down a few levels, away from lofty ideas and right down to the earthy, the real, the sexual. I don't care. It works for me. Joseph Fiennes works for me.

I'm not a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow in general, but she looks beautiful (her hair alone deserved the Oscar) and she has good chemistry with Mr. Fiennes. (Plus, you know, she's way better than Julia Roberts, who was apparently the go-to girl when the script first surfaced ten years earlier. Let us take a moment to give thanks that Julia Roberts and Daniel Day Lewis didn't work out. Because that would've broken my heart.)

And there are tons of other lovely actors to enjoy as they breeze by, with Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Simon Callow, Martin Clunes, Antony Sher, Rupert Everett and even Ben Affleck, of all people, each playing a pivotal role. One of my favorite performances comes from an actor named Mark Williams, who plays a stuttering tailor who wants his turn on the stage, showing us (as does Tom Wilkinson) just how each of the players is smitten by the magic and mystery of the theater.

Don't forget Colin Firth as the wrong man, practically twirling his mustache. Or Imelda Staunton and her real-life husband, Jim Clark, playing the real and stage versions of Juliet's nurse. (Clever touch, that one.) And, of course, Dame Judi Dench as what may be the best Queen Elizabeth ever.

So here I am, wishing once again I could time travel. This time I'd choose Shakespeare's world, just for a few hours. Long enough to see "Hamlet," maybe. Or the "Twelfth Night" we see Will starting to write at the end of the movie. I suspect the real one wouldn't be as much like Joseph Fiennes as I'd hoped. So it's probably better to watch the movie again, instead. It's just so hard to leave that world when the movie ends. Can't I stay awhile longer?


  1. I am in love with this movie, too. I own it, and watch it whenever I need some oomph. I love the tooth-brushing scene! The casting is indeed excellent. The humor, ah!

  2. Just looking at the poster makes me feel swoony.

    In terms of the humor, I love the tiny touches, like the "A Present from Stratford-upon-Avon" mug and the psychiatrist with a huge hourglass to tell him when time is up. And the line about the billing vs. the bill. It pleases me that the humor is right there, but the heart is, too. That's my favorite combo.

  3. Julie knows how I love this too. If you were to select everything I most love in movies and put it together, tied with a bow and addressed to me with love, it would be Shakespeare in Love. I am telling the plain truth when I say that the release of this on DVD was the reason I bought a DVD player for the first time. I wanted (no, needed) to be able to watch it, and hear all the commentary, and see all the extras.

    All the English people I know single out Gwyneth Paltrow here as their go-to example of an American actor doing a perfect English accent. (Their worst? Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Universally and without prompting.)