The owner of the Rose theatre Henslow (Geoffrey Rush) is in severe dire straits financially, owing money to everyone it seems. But Fennyyman (Tom Wilkinson) for whom he is most in debt too is by far the most eager to get his money from Henslow. To avoid a terrible torture Henslow promises to get dried up author William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) to write a new play "Romeo And Ethel The Pirate's Daughter!"
Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) also has similar worries to Henslow, while wanting to become an actress (or at the least an actor) she finds herself due to be married off to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). The dawning of a new play by Shakespeare and the knowledge that women are not allowed to act; Viola develops a character a pseudonym in fact known as Thomas Kent. Viola disguised at Thomas Kent lands a role in the play.
A chance encounter with Viola at a party finds that Shakespeare has fallen for this beauty; while during the day the acting of Thomas Kent also pulls at Shakespeare's heartstrings. Both sides of Paltrow's character shift the writer's block that Shakespeare has suffered, inspiring to produce some of the greatest writing he has delivered in many years. Time is of the essence as Shakespeare must not only complete the play on time, but find good reason to make the lady Viola his before she marries Lord Wessex.
Shakespeare In Love's most comedic elements are based around the fact that relatively speaking Shakespeare is talentless. All of his inspirations are stolen from the mouths and acts of others; his finest lines taken from religious nutcases and soothsayers that line the streets of the city. As the story of the love between young Will Shakespeare and Viola unravels he too uses that as the basis for his story.
It's the comedy that is the beating heart of the movie the eternal mentions of "Aphrodite Baggott who does it behind the Dog and Trumpet" while not textually amusing never become tiring due to the clever delivery. Comedy is seldom missing from any scene during the first 90 minutes of the movie, and while not necessarily of the belly laughing variety it continues to keep a smile on your face.
The movie even manages to strike comedy from the different language that Shakespearean plays used, allowing its lead cast members to poke fun at the different uses of the same word. Undoubtedly of some pleasure to Shakespearaphobes will be the knowledge that every word of the movie is clearly understandable, while delivered with an old world charm.
This American movie with a British heart is a most beautiful affair, every scene colour rich and desirable, shot in the most sumptuous of locations, never has the British countryside looked so good. As is commonplace with American/British productions there must be a certain amount of American casting, so as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck takes a leading role.
Joseph Fiennes strikes a worthy pose as a leather clad Shakespeare, not quite the image one conjures in your head when thinking of the great playwright, but one that Fiennes certainly makes his own within a very short period of time; for me no actor has ever filled the role so well, even despite the fact that this is a more fictional portrayal of the bard than has ever been seen before. Fiennes plays mainly for the comedy and even in sword fighting action scenes manages to produce a laugh by falling from the stage and launching a retaliatory attack with a Jester's rattle. Towards the middle of the movie he even camps it up dressing as a nurse maid to avoid detection.
As stark contrast Paltrow performance is a much more straight-laced role, only occasionally breaking into moments of comedy. She is the anchor that keeps the movie historically stabilized, and a much-needed one it is too. Paltrow has never looked more glorious, without a doubt a woman who suits historical attire. Paltrow successfully pulls off a neutral toned accent, so often lacking when American stars assume British-speaking roles. She could easily be Kate Winslett, or Emily Blunt your never at any point given reason to question her roots. Add to this a one hundred percent stellar performance that in my eyes knocks the socks off anything she had acted in prior, and her previous movie Great Expectations was an incredibly difficult act to follow.
The cast is filled with small performances from classic British stars Imelda Staunton, Martin Clunes, Lucy Speed, Jim Carter,and Simon Callow to name just a handful; you'll also observe many a comedy character from shows such as the Fast Show bolstering one scene acts. Sat in the heart of these smaller roles sits Judy Dench as the queen, a performance that is certainly not one easily amused. The most severe and fast-tongued member of the cast, delivering menace in every word she says. Her response to the situation where in reality Walter Raleigh laid down his cloak so she may pass over a puddle is one not to be missed. Dench fills this role admirably with not only terror but humor, this is not a lady you would readily cross, and this is not a performance that should be missing from this classic movie.
As well as the performances that carry out on the screen, much focus should be paid to the beautiful orchestral score that accompanies the movie. Each piece of music accurately encompasses the action onscreen and is clearly identifiable as Shakespeare In Love should you hear it beyond the confines of the movie.
On the subject of sound, this is definitely a movie that benefits from a good surround sound system, while easily enjoyable without such a utility; it makes for a bigger and better experience. While the music benefits from surround sound, the vocals without a doubt improve especially in theatre scenes where you quite literally feel as if you’re among the audience.
Shakespeare In Love's two hour running time passes in a heartbeat, during which time you have travelled a roller-coaster of emotions and seen a film that will create a difficult act to follow. Not only did this movie clean up in the box office, it was without a doubt the biggest movie of 1999 (which was when it was released in the UK) if you excuse the long awaited return of Star Wars, clutching from this a handful of awards from the most prestigious award ceremonies in the world.