Directed by John Madden, starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow
Written by Marc Norman and Top Stoppard
I've been waiting years for a Shakespearean film to come along and not
only match the beauty of Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" but, more
important, get people talking about Shakespeare! John Madden, who brought
us the touching "Mrs. Brown," scores with a bravo romantic comedy that
made me rise and cheer and proclaim it one of the year's best films.
It's England 1593, and the theater is THE form of artistic impression.
But Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush of "Shine"), the owner of the Rose
Theater, is having a serious cash flow problem, and if he doesn't come
up with a hit his boss Hugh Fennyman (a terrific Tom Wilkinson) will make
sure that his Spielberg days are over. With the two-minute warning looming
overhead, he calls on Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) to save his hide.
A play's success depends solely on the Queen -- there are no Siskel
& Ebert wannabes. A play premieres before the aristocrats if it's miraculously
able to make her laugh or cry. "The Rose," (where the Queen will not go)
is not known as a place for ladies to be seen, but for Viola (Gwyneth
Paltrow, in her best work to date!) who desires poetry, romance, and adventure,
it is the perfect watering hole.
Will has that certain gift with the pen. Like a star novelist presenting
his frantic editor with a new chapter of his supposed best seller, Will
delivers only parts of his play at a time with no one knowing what will
follow. The eager anticipation and looks on everyone's face is priceless!
A cattle call soon goes out for aspiring De Niros. Keep in mind that women
were not allowed to participate during this period, but this chauvinistic
obstacle did not stop Viola -- who poses as "Thomas" and auditions for
Will's comedy. While everyone resembles Pauly Shore, Will has discovered
a young Brando. Will's acting buddies also show up led by Edward Alleyn
(a perfectly cocky Ben Affleck, of "Good Will Hunting").
Shortly, thereafter, Will eyes Viola, but just like when Leonardo spotted
Kate in "Titanic," Will's buddies tell him to keep dreaming. Luckily for
us, he ignores his chums and asks her to dance. Unfortunately, all the
tangos between the two lovebirds have made the Earl of Wessex (Colin Firth)
jealous. The Lord proceeds to threaten our hero who passes himself off
as his chief rival Chris Marlowe (Rupert Everett of "My Best Friend's
Wedding"). He later follows his instincts and climbs up Viola's balcony
to see her where they reveal their attraction to one another. Viola has
not only opened up to Will, but has given him that fearless passion to
write again. As for poor Colin -- he played second banana to Joseph's
brother Ralph in the "The English Patient" -- this is the second time
that he's battling a Fiennes brother. Unfortunately, the Lord only sees
Viola as a baby machine and wants to marry her for every reason except
love. To make matters worse, the Queen ("Mrs. Brown" headliner Judi Dench)
has approved the courtship and although Viola's heart belongs to Will,
she cannot defy her Queen.
Thomas, once again, shows up and wins a role in the play, which is slowly
turning into a drama. In a "Crying Game" reversal, Will tells Thomas that
he loves Viola not knowing that he was talking to her all along until
he eventually unmasks his loving impostor. Unfortunately, the two are
running out of time as the planned marriage approaches. In a funny sequence,
Will tags along with Viola to the palace and poses a challenge to the
Queen, who doesn't believe that any "Rose" play can have any significance.
The Queen takes him up on his Herculean task to create a breathtaking
and meaningful production.
The film works because you believe love will conquer all. In fact, forbidden
love hasn't been this wonderful since the "Titanic." I loved the way they
passionately looked at each other. He worshipped her with his eyes while
she nervously froze whenever he got close. He climbed onto her balcony
like classic Robin Hood, Errol Flynn, up endless towers to be with Olivia
de Havilland. They also share sweet moments in the canoe when Will pours
out his heart to the woman he loves without knowing it is she. They not
only hunger for each other, but they truly care for one another. It was
touching to see Will get all hot and bothered whenever Viola had a kissing
scene or when she was in the grasp of the wretched Lord. At one point,
she was devastated to learn that Will was supposedly killed. You can feel
the agony and then the excitement build in her when she discovers that
he's still alive. These two desired passion and wanted love and nothing
was going to stop them from achieving it!
Besides its winning love story, the film succeeds because of its film-within-a-film
appeal. It is thanks to the forces at bay that "Romeo and Juliet" is born.
Since no one wants Will and Viola to get together, he reshapes his story
to reflect this. When tragedy strikes, the film reemphasizes how people
will do whatever it takes to break their bond no matter the consequences.
Although the film boasts fine direction and a terrific Tom Stoppard
script, it is the acting that spearheads its majestic success. You really
want Paltrow and Fiennes to overcome the odds, while Colin Firth pulls
off a nice Alan Rickman ("Die Hard") type performance. Judi Dench, matches
her previous collaboration with Madden with a scene stealing supporting
role as a Queen who's always one step ahead in a man's world.
A film like this is what going to the movies is all about! A picture
that triumphantly echoes to follow your heart's desire and winningly does