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Shakespeare in Love


#46 - Shakespeare in Love
John Madden, 1998



In Elizabethan England, a young William Shakespeare is struggling with writer's block when he makes the acquaintance of a young noblewoman masquerading as an actor and they begin a secret love affair that ends up inspiring the creation of Romeo and Juliet.

Another one of those films that I've never quite managed to see all the way through, I figured I should at least finish it for the sake of completionism. On a technical scale it's pretty solid, with some excellent recreations of Elizabethan fashions and architecture that definitely deserve to be counted among the film's better chievements. Unfortunately, I could debate whether or not the writing's any good.

I understand that, for the most part, Shakespeare in Love is a bit of a comedy despite its more obviously Oscar-baiting dramatic moments. Given the premise, there are plenty of jokes that reference Shakespeare and the characters tend to be comical exaggerations a fair bit of the time. Unfortunately, a lot of these minor references tend to come across as too clever for their own good and aren't especially amusing. Performances range in quality, too. Despite my suspicions, Gwyneth Paltrow proves herself at least somewhat deserving of her Oscar win as she manages to recite Shakespeare, pretend to be a man and generally tick a lot of Oscar boxes. Judi Dench, on the other hand, feels more like a sympathy vote given her relative lack of screen time and the fact that she doesn't do anything especially out of her range (a disdainful matriarch-like woman? You don't say). The male characters tend to be serviceable (even established actors like Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson are solid more so than actually amazing), though I do find myself wondering what Ben Affleck of all people is doing in this film. I do reckon it was interesting to see quintessential nice guy actor Colin Firth play an absolute cad, though.

Despite its corny-sounding premise, Shakespeare in Love has at least enough quality in terms of both technique and narrative that I can appreciate it on some level. Sure, the two main plotlines involving a star-crossed love triangle and a troubled theatrical production are both all too familiar, but I didn't hate the way that both played out. Though I don't think the film was especially enjoyable or remarkable, I reckon it's not bad as far as Best Picture winners go.