The parallels drawn so gleefully between Elizabethan London and our own time fly through the air like merry potshots.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Shakespeare in Love asks a delicious question: What if "Romeo and Juliet" is autobiographical? The answer is a lighthearted romp through the imaginations of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, who have fashioned an inspired fantasy that is also a rollicking romantic comedy. Artistic license begets pure pleasure in this marvelous mosaic of the 1590s and the 1990s. The movie announces, with a big wink, that nothing ever changes. At last, for this season, a movie that sings.

Rising playwright Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is struggling with writer's block as the script for "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's daughter," lies unfinished on his desk. Theater owner Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) is pushing him for the finished play so he can compete with the rival theater across town. Visiting his therapist, whose hourglass runs, Will moans, "I have lost my gift."

His gift returns when he meets Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow). Suddenly and wildly in love, they play out their story and Will's play within the culture of their time. The moneymen control the artists; sex drives everything; the government meddles in the arts; women never win. But one is trying hard: Viola wants to act. She watches plays with the soulful look of a poet, knowing the profession is forbidden to women. Disguising herself as a boy, Viola auditions for the part-still unwritten-of Romeo in Will's new play.

In a compassionate gesture, Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) hands the blocked playwright the plot for Romeo and Juliet. To Shakespeare the poet, Marlowe cries, "We have no time--talk prose!" Will gathers incidental dialogue as he runs through a streetscape of Breugel figures. "A plague on both your houses," a man bellows from his doorstep.

Gwyneth Paltrow gives Viola just the right touch of defiance in a time when even that quality brought a woman no freedom of choice. At the command of Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench), Viola will marry the weasel, Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). Judi Dench is uproariously funny as the woman who knows herself and has the power to be who she is. Joseph Fiennes makes it great fun to think of Shakespeare in terms of writer's block and career breakthroughs. Fiennes and Paltrow are lyrical as the dewy-eyed lovers engulfed by Will's script. Refusing to let reality limit imagination, Director John Madden and writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard have created a sly fairy tale. Without the slightest hint of mockery, they poke playfully around in the fabric of the myths that surround the master. The movie is a frolic in historical irony. What if Will had been run through by that swordsman? What if Christopher Marlowe hadn't died young?

The parallels drawn so gleefully between Elizabethan London and our own time fly through the air like merry potshots. As to the writers' initial invitation to imagine Shakespeare in love as he wrote the world's greatest love story, we are left smiling broadly, certain by now that this is how it might have been.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running time : 2h0m

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