Shakespeare in Love, released in 1998, won seven Oscars at the Academy Awards. It’s a fictional tale about William Shakespeare, so don’t expect a biography! I don’t think you need to know much about Shakespeare to watch this film. It’s about one man’s muse, how he becomes inspired and creative, and his muse is the beautiful Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow). Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, playwrights with many writing credits to their names, wrote the screenplay. You’ve probably heard of the famous play Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed and filmed stories. That’s all the Shakespeare you really have to know.
Young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) has a bad case of writer’s block. He’s not perfect, and not making much money off his career as a playwright. Viola loves the poetry of Shakespeare and dresses as a man to get a place onstage. Meanwhile, her marriage to the gold-digger Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) is pending.
When Will meets Viola, the words flow effortlessly onto the page, even with the added handicap of writing with a quill dipped in ink. Will finds inspiration in every encounter he has with Viola and it comes across in his writing. The language is so rich and beautiful in this film. I appreciated the references to other works of Shakespeare’s, not that I am by any means an expert on his plays.
Other actors play good roles and they later developed long, ongoing careers in film, including Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, Ben Affleck, yes, Ben Affleck, as an actor who plays Mercutio. Imelda Staunton plays Viola’s nurse and confidant most engagingly.
Gwyneth is luminous in her role as Viola, and Joseph Fiennes is passionate in all he does. The costumes are ludicrous, but well designed for the times. The film serves to point out how little opportunity women had at this time, 1593. We have come a long way, but not far enough as recent events would have us realize.
Does Shakespeare in Love live up to what Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) asked Will for: a play to show the meaning of true love? I think it does. It’s also a story of actors, how they long to play their roles and give it all they’ve got on stage. It’s about the rehearsals, how everyone wants to tell Will how to write his play. The characters are a microcosm of the entertainment world.
In addition to Best Original Screenplay, Shakespeare in Love also won Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design and Best Original Musical Score. It is rated R for sexuality, an unfortunate rating; I think PG-13 would be more appropriate given the worldliness of teens today. This is a movie that should be watched by all serious screenwriters, as it is a tribute to the trials and tribulations of the writer. Norman and Stoppard have crafted a beautiful script that we can all be entertained by.