4 Stars Movies

Go behind the scenes of “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” in Shakespeare in Love

This blogger is not ashamed to admit being in love with Shakespeare in Love, and not just for the generous displays of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lovely young bubbies.

Full of American actors affecting English accents with varying degrees of outrageousness, it only partly qualifies as Europudding, and is in fact more in the vein of “let’s put on a show!” theater farces like Noises Off and Waiting for Guffman. Director John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love succeeds beautifully, but the formula is not ironclad; Becoming Jane obviously attempted the same stunt by warping the biographical details of Jane Austin’s life onto her novels, but rather failed to capture her dry wit and particular brand of practical passion.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love
Oi, get yer bubbies out!

Co-screenwriter Tom Stoppard, already an expert at playing fast and loose with Shakespeare in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, lays more than a few easter eggs for English majors and other enthusiasts of Elizabethan drama. Bloody playwright John Webster cameos as a disturbed young lad. Many favorite Shakespeare cliches appear not just in the play-within-the-movie, but also in the body of the movie itself: ghosts, cross-cross-dressing, and a “bit with a dog.” But perhaps the movie’s biggest achievement is to humanize perhaps the most revered writer in the English language, and yet still illuminate the unmatched passion and achievement of his work. A Shakespeare beset with writer’s block struggles to find a hook for the unwritten Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter reminds us that he was probably no unearthly creature taking dictation from beyond, and that creating such art was, simply, hard work.

Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love
Judi Dench in full Queen Bitch mode

Shakespeare in Love thankfully doesn’t let historical accuracy get in the way of a good gag. Will makes weekly visits to an apothecary practicing psychotherapy a few hundred years early. The contemporary theater world is shown more than once as a precursor to today’s movie biz. In order to bankroll the production of a new play, financier/kneecapper Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson) suggests Globe Theater owner Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) pay actors with a portion of the profits, when of course there never are any. Brilliant! One wonders if Miramax honchos Harvey & Bob Weinstein perceived the irony.

But the movie is sometimes more accurate than one might think for something that is admittedly a slightly fluffy farce. For example, it is in fact plausible for Shakespeare to fear he may have been indirectly responsible for rival playwright Christopher Marlowe’s death. Marlowe died in 1593, which according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, was about the time Romeo and Juliet was written.

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