22 June 2012

Shakespeare in Love (starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow)

We weren't entirely sure what to expect from 'Shakespeare in Love', but it was recommended to us by several friends. It sat on our to-be-watched shelf for some time until we pulled it out to see this week. We wondered if it might be based on real events, but soon realised that, while set in Elizabethan England and featuring some real people (including Her Majesty), the entire storyline was fictitious.

The plot revolves around Will Shakespeare as a young man, brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. He's written a few good plays - though nothing really outstanding - but is much fonder of wine and women than he is of writing. Besides, he seems to have a case of writers' block, not helped by pressure from the theatre owners who are themselves under pressure from debt-collectors. The plague has had devastating effects on entertainment, and there are those who would love to see the theatres closed.

Despite the rather sordid background, and one of two decidedly unpleasant scenes, this is a fairly light-hearted look at the period. It was a bonus to discover that the first Queen Elizabeth was played by Judi Dench, who seemed entirely at home in the role in a variety of stunning costumes, with some delightful dry humour.

Meanwhile Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a spirited young theatre-goer, finds herself pledged by her father to be married to someone she barely knows (Colin Firth as a rather unappealing suitor, Lord Wessex). Viola dresses up as a young boy and auditions for one of Shakespeare's plays... something that would have been quite shocking at the time. Even more shocking for an upper-class lady, she falls in love with Will and a passionate affair begins... alongside rehearsals for the new play which he is writing. It started out as 'Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter' but gradually changes as his affair progresses.

There humour is understated but undoubtedly there, making me smile several times. There's inevitably some hot-blooded romance although nothing actually explicit; we didn't notice any seriously bad language at all. The UK rating of 15 seems about right although I wouldn't have been surprised if it were only 12; the more prudish US censors have set it at R (18). I'd have thought this would be a good way for teenagers struggling with Shakespeare at high school to see him as a real person in context, and understand a little more of the way that his plays were written and acted.

The production is lavishly done with wonderful settings and costumes, the whole being a very enjoyable film which well deserved its many awards.  We watched one of the extras too, with some of the cast and writers talking about the way the film was made - very interesting.

Recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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