Shakespeare in Love (1998)

The very first time I watched Shakespeare in Love was in my 11th grade European History class. It appears I had an amazing teacher because I had totally forgotten all the nudity and sex depicted in this 1998 Best Picture winner. 

I have seen the film a few times since that day and vaguely remembered the finer details. Upon a recent viewing, everything from the characters to the overall story finally came together for me, and I could appreciate the film.

As the world knows, Romeo and Juliet were one of the finest plays that William Shakespeare ever wrote. Joseph Fiennes plays a young William who struggles to write a play called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. It was supposed to be this comedy-drama and not the epic love affair we all know and love; Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) emerges as a new young star in the play’s production. The only problem is she’s at the theatre dressed as a boy and is set to marry Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). Because of her talent, William soon learns of her real identity and the two fall madly in love, causing a ripple effect on the stage and in the community. 

The majority of the film is standard storytelling, with a lot of focus placed on the struggles it takes to keep a theatre open and get a production off the ground. The film’s cast is an assembly of great names like Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson. They all bring amazing talents to the screen and, with those abilities, can bring to life the characters of the 1500s. There is never a dull moment, and the tension could be cut with a knife most times. There is a ton of drama among the characters, and a lot of it is natural, whether it’s a girl acting in a men’s play or debt collectors resorting to unfriendly means to collect money owed. 

As I sat down to watch this film again for this review, I felt I could take more from it today. Whether it was woman suppression or forbidden love, I actually appreciate how impactful this story turned out to be. This isn’t just about the original production of Romeo and Juliet; it is so much more. 

After ditching her future husband, my favourite part was when Paltrow shows up at the theatre to walk on stage and give a brilliant performance as Juliet. It brought the house down and showed that a woman could do more than be a wife and mother despite the stigma of the day. Her love for the arts made me really like her character, which says a lot since I am not the greatest Paltrow fan out there. 

The other scene that left a lasting impression on me was when the Queen (Dench) stood up from hiding and applauded Shakespeare and his cast’s efforts for their production. As I said before, I forgot she was in the film, let alone the Queen, so when she puts her foot down, it was pretty admirable. It made me enjoy the ending of the film more than any other part. The film reminded me that the next time I watch Romeo and Juliet, I should take a minute and appreciate everything that went into this classic tale. 6/10

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