A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 393 – Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love – March 28th, 2011

I saw this movie in the theater when it came out. I saw it while visiting Andy’s grandparents when I was in college. They were with us. And let me tell you, watching a movie with a sex scene – even a sex scene as romantic as this movie’s – with one’s future grandparents-in-law? Just as awkward as one might expect. And still, it didn’t ruin this movie for me. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy, which is not usually my thing, but it’s a period romantic comedy and it’s Shakespeare based. And I do like my Shakespeare.

Were I to be a cynic, I would dismiss this movie as pure speculative fluff and nonsense. And I am often cynical, but there is something about this movie that makes me ignore that little critical voice in my head and just run with the fantasy. And it is fantasy. It is a melding of period setting and Shakespearean reference to the point where it’s clear that this is far outside the realm of reality. And that’s the point. I honestly believe this movie was made for people who love Shakespeare. Or who at least know a good deal of his work. Sure, people who don’t know it can watch it and enjoy the romance between Will and Viola, but from the perspective of someone who knows more than a few of the plays, it’s full of references and nods, some clever and some obvious. I like those references. I even like the blatant and cheesy ones like the Stratford Upon Avon mug. It all just makes me smile.

We put this in tonight because I needed an antidote to our weekend of Spider Man crap. I needed something well written, with a solid plot and people to root for. And it helps that there’s a nice solid villain here. One you’re meant to loathe. The story has echoes of Romeo and Juliet, but also touches and tidbits of various other plays as well. When we begin, Will Shakespeare has writer’s block. He can’t seem to get his latest play written, rival playwrights are doing better and gaining acclaim, and he’s low on funds as well. He’s working on a new play called Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. It’s rubbish. And then we meet Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. She loves plays and theater and when Shakespeare manages to write enough for auditions to be held she shows up dressed as a boy. And that’s where the trouble begins.

I’m not going to try and explain the plot in intricate detail. Suffice it to say that it’s a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night and Viola and Will end up passionately in love. And you know from the start that this is doomed. Viola’s a gentlewoman with money and Will is a penniless playwright. And Viola’s hand has been promised to Lord Wessex. It’s all a matter of money and prestige and reputation and it’s hateful. Her father pretty much sells her to Wessex with the promise that he can send her back if she doesn’t breed. And while I find that disgusting, I know that it’s not inaccurate to the time period. And it’s also presented as horrible. This is no romanticized vision of a marriage for money. Viola doesn’t miraculously end up falling for Wessex and he’s certainly not a sympathetic figure. The one jarring thing for me about this movie is the utter certainty that the only things keeping him from striking Viola in just about every scene they’re in together is that they’re not yet married and/or they’re in public. The thought of her having to actually live with him for any amount of time makes me sick, as he is clearly written to be a nasty, coldhearted and cruel man. Not an ideal husband, to be sure.

But that’s the contrast to Viola and Will, whose short time together seems magical and dream-like. In fact, they comment on that several times, with those comments ending up as lines in the play Will is writing. With romance in his life his work turns the same way. And it’s fun to watch Viola dressed as a boy, playing out Romeo’s part on stage and living Juliet’s off stage. It’s a doomed romance entwined with another doomed romance. But played out beautifully by Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. It’s a lovely bit of work, having the two act as inspiration to the parts they play within the movie’s stage performance.

I feel like I’m failing to adequately review this movie but to be honest I’m tired and it’s been a long day and I didn’t put this in to spend a lot of time analyzing it. It’s sweet and pretty and romantic and funny. It’s got a fantastic cast and a lovely score and some fun cameos and performances from actors I recognize in smaller roles. There’s a wonderful performance from Judi Dench as Elizabeth II (though I don’t know if it was truly Oscar-worthy). And it ends with a vision of Viola’s future that leaves me hopeful that while her romance with Will is at an end, there is more for her than a cold and likely painful marriage to a man who cares only about her father’s money and breaking her spirit. It’s a sad ending for the romance, yes, but a better ending for the people in it than Romeo and Juliet got.

March 28, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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