John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love is gloriously romantic and literate. Screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard coalesce Elizabethan theatre history and enduring gossip into a dreamy conceit: the Bard’s early writing years become a comedy about writer’s block, unleashed by the power of adulterous love. For the first time in movies, audiences can “feel” William’s bursting creativity: what an exciting stroke of shrewdness to mesh the loves of Will with the development of Romeo and Ethel, The Pirates Daughter. Even if, of course, the world’s most gifted dramatist never saw any women ever play his female characters. This fancy has at its center an audacious Shakespeare in Joseph Fiennes, whose looks suggest a 16th century metrosexual and his carte blanche trespasses a bisexuality; this pretty boy, all agog, with energized swagger, colossal sensuality and ink-stained fingernails, is bait for most eyes. Gwyneth Paltrow won awards as the fictitious inspiration for Juliet and Twelfth Night’s Viola, but had she not a co-star so lustfully engaging, who knows what fate would beset her? She does, however, handle English accentuation ala Mia Farrow with high efficiency. (After A Perfect Murder, Hush and a few other duds, including Madden’s Proof, one is tempted to repeat Sandra Bernhard’s comment to Tim Curry on “Roseanne”: “Stay foreign, it works for you.”) Nifty bits throughout—Judi Dench’s Elizabeth I; Rupert Everett’s Christopher Marlowe, Ben Affleck’s Ned Alleyn (England’s first superstar actor?), Martin Clunes’s Richard Burbage, for whom Shakespeare wrote Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and King Lear—and not the least of which is a truncated but arguably the movies’ most satisfying version of Romeo and Juliet. Production designer Martin Childs (who’d go on to create the Charenton Asylum in Quills), set decorator Jill Quertier, photographer Richard Greatrex and costumer Sandy Powell have joined to make the most appealingly evocative Shakespeare-period movie since the Burtons’ Taming of the Shrew. Academy Awards: best picture, actress (Paltrow), supporting actress (Dench), original musical score, art/set direction, costume and original screenplay. Winner of 43 additional awards from various critics societies and movie organizations. Kate Winslet turned down the female lead for Holy Smoke; Julia Roberts wanted to do it with Daniel Day Lewis; Kenneth Branagh was considered for director. Budgeted at $25,000,000, its gross in America alone went over $100,000,000. In England, gross exceeded £20 million.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.