Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Film review by Andrea Carnevali

Shakespeare In Love (1998) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½ – Review by Andrea Carnevali

The world’s greatest ever playwright, William Shakespeare, is young, out of ideas and short of cash, but meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays.

Shakespeare In Love will be screened at Chiswick Cinema on Tuesday 6 June 2023 with director John Madden taking part in a Q&A afterwards.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with this film… and by the time you’ll get to the end of this review, you’ll understand why.

It is an undeniably charming film: historical escapism at its best (even though it takes few liberties with historic accuracy). A little gem of a movie, that continues to delight audiences whenever it gets shown around.

The script by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard has a lot to do with how well the film works. It is indeed a manual of screenwriting. Witty, clever, and endlessly entertaining, it creates a story that manages to be both a love letter to Shakespeare himself, as well as a unique and original tale in its own right.

The dialogue is sharp, filled with puns, wordplay, and so many references to Shakespeare’s plays, that any Bard lover will feel in heaven. But it is also a well-structured and tightly plotted story, with subplots and characters are all woven together seamlessly, creating a rich and complex tapestry of a story that never feels overwhelming or confusing. It stands as a testament to the power of great writing, and a reminder of why Shakespeare’s work still has so much power.

Director John Madden expertly balances the film’s comedic and dramatic elements, treating the source material with the respect and reverence it deserves. He keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, keeping it always fun and allowing the playfulness of the script to shine, while at the same time making every quiet and more reflective moment resonate.

Madden has a great eye for detail and he captures the essence of the Elizabethan era beautifully: a world that is rich and immersive, that feels authentic and lived-in, from the lavish costumes, to the bustling streets of London, to the energy and excitement of the live theatre (courtesy of his dynamic camera angles and quick cuts which convey the frenetic energy of a live performance).

It may get overly sentimental at times, but obviously at the heart this is a love story between Will Shakespeare and Viola: a romance that is both passionate and bittersweet, echoing of course the tale of Romeo and Juliet, both thematically and structurally, another reason why it is hard not to like this film.

Shakespeare in Love is a real crowd-pleasing romp through Elizabethan England filled with witty banter, swoon-worthy romance, and a cast of characters that will leave anyone grinning from ear to ear; from the charmingly bumbling Shakespeare to the feisty and independent Viola. Joseph Fiennes brings the perfect mix of charm, wit, and vulnerability to the role of the Bard, making him a character that you cannot help but root for.

This of course was not Fiennes’ only entry in the Elizabethan world in 1998, (the splendid Elizabeth was the second), but despite that, more than 30 other films to his resume and his more recent (and rather controversial) role in four seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale, Shakespeare in Love is really the film he gets remembered for. And I guess, rightly so: his scenes with Paltrow, filled with passion and humour, are some of the film’s most memorable and their chemistry is really electric.

Paltrow is equally fantastic as Viola, a woman who dreams of being an actress in a world that doesn’t allow it. The fierce determination she manages to bring to the role, as well as a vulnerability that makes her character all the more relatable and probably what got her the Oscar.

The supporting cast is equally strong too, with standout performances from Geoffrey Rush as the conniving theatre owner, Tom Wilkinson as the pompous actor-manager. But also we have Ben Affleck, Colin Firth, Simon Callow, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton and of course Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth, who in less than 20 minutes of screen time, steals the show and get away with an Oscar in the process.

Finally, to top it all up, the evocative score by Stephen Warbeck, which beautifully conveys the epic sweep nature of the story while also capturing the intimate moments between the characters and the romantic and whimsical tone of the script.

But of course, it is impossible to talk about Shakespeare in Love without mentioning its controversial Best Picture win over Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg did win Best Director (I mean, it would have been a real travesty if he hadn’t), but the film missed out on the big one.

Those who know me can easily imagine how I must have felt at the time when the winner was announced and while I can understand why Shakespeare in Love resonated with audiences and critics alike (after all it is a film that celebrates the power of storytelling and the magic of theatre, with such joy and enthusiasm that it’s hard not to be swept up in its charms.), Saving Private Ryan, not just an epic war drama, but a masterpiece of filmmaking, with stunning visuals, heart-wrenching performances, and a story that will stays with you long after the credits roll, deserved that Best Picture Oscar.

There you go, I’ve said it!

Do catch a special 25th Anniversary screening of Shakespeare in Love, followed by a Q&A with John Madden, at the Chiswick Cinema on Tuesday 6 June 2023.

Shakespeare In Love will be shown at a special screening at Chiswick Cinema on Tuesday 6 June with director John Madden taking part in a Q&A afterwards.

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