Classic Film Review: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

And the Oscar Goes to:

Shakespeare in Love, 1998

Directed by: John Madden

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Jim Carter, Martin Clunes, Antony Sher, Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Williams


American Beauty: the film that beat Saving Private Ryan to the Best Picture award. This film is about William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and his romantic interest in Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) presented in the format of a Shakespearean play. Shakespeare has been tasked to write a new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, but is struggling for inspiration until he meets Viola and falls in love. From there he writes, and ultimately reshapes, the play to match his relationship with Viola (in that they cannot be together due to their class), and ultimately produces Romeo and Juliet.

Presenting this film as if it were itself a Shakespearean play is brilliant. The writing perfectly captures this mixture and brilliantly adds in plenty of comedic, suspenseful, emotional and romantic lines. Another brilliant inclusion in this film is having Viola portray herself as a man in order to be in the play; it adds comedy (having Romeo being a girl and Juliet a boy), and a brilliant nod to Viola from Twelfth Night who disguised as a man to be close to Orsino.

The presentation of this film is wonderful: the bright and vivid colours match the tone of the film, and it makes a change from seeing the 16th/17th century as a gloomy time period. The film is so upbeat in its tone, even serious fights are presented in a comedic light (seeing Philip Henslow (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) look on with a bizarre expression trying to find the fight in the play is hilarious), so having all these bright colours match how wonderful this world is presented is a much-appreciated twist on the norm.

In a previous review I noted how impressive it is to have an actor be part of more than one Best Picture Oscar winning film (although that was more back-to-back winning films), this film stars, both, Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth, two actors who both featured in The King’s Speech, the first instance, so far, of two actors working together in two Best Picture winning films.

The acting in this film is very fine, with the best of the best of British actors (just look at that cast list!), but I didn’t care much for Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare. He acted his part very well, but, to me, he just didn’t suit the role. The Best Actor category was the only one of the four acting Oscars which didn’t feature a nominee from Shakespeare in Love (with Gwyneth Paltrow winning Best Actress, Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul winning Best Supporting Actress and Geoffrey Rush nominated for Best Supporting Actor). While he was fine, he didn’t stand out among this cast.

Shakespeare in Love is beautiful, smart, funny and charming. It beautifully blends all that makes a Shakespearean play into a film about Shakespeare, for once placing him as a leading character in his own plays. Brilliant acting and a terrific screenplay all combine to make a wonderful film.


Plot: * * * *

Acting: * * * *

Writing: * * * * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ¼


3 thoughts on “Classic Film Review: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

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