Shakespeare In Love:(Movie review originally written in December, 1998)
There is a part of "Shakespeare In Love" where the queen, played by the wonderful Judi Dench("Mrs. Brown") where her character talks about how simple plays are not able to truely bring to life the true experience of love. It is up to one William Shakespeare to prove her wrong. It's this film that proves a whole lot of recent films wrong. Where we're thrown many a mechanical, formulaic romances that are simplistic and utterly joyless. One has almost forgotten a film that brings to life the true maddening glory and joy of the grand act of falling head over heels in love, then a film that is so rich, beautiful, smart and well done comes along. "Shakespeare In Love" is definitely one of those films, a true classic work that defied any of my expectations walking in. Parts tragedy, parts comedy, parts love story add up to a whole of grand performances.
The story trails Shakespeare through the days as he writes and tries to put together his play, "Romeo and Ethel"(well, it's a working title.) There is a wild cast of characters working around him such as Marlowe(Rupert Everett),a more popular playright during the time; Henslowe(Geoffrey Rush), and more. What I loved about the film was the way it takes the audience through the day to day life; the business that it took to even get a play made in the first place. There's deadlines, casting,the stage to secure,the money to pay the actors. Soon the camera comes upon Viola de Lesseps(Gwyneth Paltrow), a woman who is absolutely enraptured by the poetry of Shakespeare's words, so much, that she dresses up as a man to audition for a role in his next play, unknown to Will, who has also recently fallen in love with the sight of Viola as herself. Prohibited from acting since she's a woman, Vila turns to Shakespeare, who sees Vila as the perfect muse for his current state of writer's block. It's a match made in heaven as the two pair upto complete the play, keeping Vila's secret all the time in some very funny scenes as the two keep the cover-up going. The greatness of the film is how it is at the same time very serious about its subject as well as being wonderfully playful and satiric, providing for some great moments of high comedy.
Viola, unfortunately is set to marry Earl Of Wessex in two weeks; it is during this time that her and Shakespeare are set adrift in each other's eyes, spending days and nights together, reading lines of the play to one another in bed. Many of the moments that end up in the play are moments that the two spend together, most memorably the balcony scene right out of the final play.
The best scenes of comedy throughout the film is how incredibly close the act of putting on a play comes to the act of putting on a current Hollywood production. There are production partners, tickets that need to be sold, actors that need to be pampered; there's even a riverboat driver that asks Shakespeare to read a script he's written. It's these scenes, as well as a scene where Shakespeare convinces a touring actor played by Ben Affleck(in a strange bit of casting that suprisingly works), to play Mercutio; the scene ends with Affleck's character simply stating: "He dies in the end?"
There are some outstanding performances here. Gwyneth Paltrow is simply at her most radiant and wonderful playing Viola. There is a light, a pure energy that she harnesses in this character that is similar to the kind of energy that I see in Emily Watson("Hillary and Jackie"), another of my favorite actresses. Her as well as Joseph Finnes as Shakespeare, make a luminous and wonderful couple. Judi Dench as the queen, though, steals the show as she comes out of nowhere to drop devasting wit amongst the court, in some scenes that are sharp and extremely funny. The script is what lifts the film into a heavenly level, with a wit that somehow reminds me of David Mamet(for some reason this whole film reminds me of "Wag The Dog", why, I don't know). There are just so many things the film tries; comedy, satire, seriousness, drama; the film throws everything and the kitchen sink at you and suprisingly, it all works wonderfully as the timing is just so perfect that it all manages to come together. "Shakespeare In Love" is outstanding, grand filmmaking that is supremely joyous. Paltrow, especially, deserves a definite nomination for best actress; I'll be highly shocked if this film doesn't recieve a much deserved nomination for Best Picture(and, since this review was written, it went on to win best picture.)
VIDEO:It's Disney(or more specifically, Miramax's, to give credit where credit is due) attempt at anamorphic widescreen. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is quite good, although occasionally the picture does look the slightest bit soft in an interior or two. I'm probably just being picky, because for the most part, this is quite an excellent image, with very strong detail and sharp images. The costumes especially look stunning here, and this disc reveals each and every intricate detail.
Colors are extremely pleasing and accurately rendered throughout, looking very pure, vibrant and well-saturated. Fleshtones are especially wonderful, looking natural and warm throughout. The print used is beautiful, free of scratches or other such blemishes. There's no pixelization, but there was a few tiny instances of shimmering.
If anything, this only increases my dislike of the DVD output of Miramax's parent company, Disney. If Miramax had to fight to get a transfer this beautiful, then it makes it only more obvious that Disney is not likely to change their outlook on quality DVD work. Hopefully, this does mean that Miramax has broken free to give their films the DVD treatment that they deserve. Hopefully, this will make it obvious to everyone at Disney how great their films can look on this format. If they take a look at the quality of the image here and don't say to themselves, "why can't all of our films look this good?", then there's definitely something very seriously wrong at the Mouse House.
SOUND: The score sounds beautiful, flowing throughout the sound stage, absolutely clear, clean and dynamic. There's some nice touches of ambient sound here as well, although the film remains mostly dialogue and it sounds perfectly clear, with no problems.
MENUS: This DVD offers the same great picture quality, the same great sound quality, some great new extras, and the same boring menus. Basic, non-animated.
General Thoughts: Although I wasn't pleased with the extra content of the Life Is Beautiful: Collector's Edition, I was moderately pleased with the recent Everest:Collector's Edition, both also from Miramax. "Shakespeare In Love" though, is quite a strong special edition, with two strong commentary tracks being the main highlight.
Commentary One: This is a commentary track from director John Madden("Mrs. Brown", "Shakespeare In Love") that mainly focuses on the concepts and themes of the story, talking a lot about the plot and how the film was structured, discussing a great deal about the interactions between each of the characters. It's not a technical commentary, really, it's an extremely literate and thoughtful discussion of the plot, dialogue and character elements.
This way of discussion can sometimes become very boring as some directors sit back and simply comment about what's on-screen, but listening to someone who can speak elequently about the subject at hand can provide a very interesting experience and that's what we get from this commentary track. Madden is able to analyze, at great length, his points of view about the way that this film plays and structures the life of Shakespeare and also, has the ability to point out references from other stories and writings. He also comands a fine knowledge of history and is able to speak about what was going on during these times.
Again, it's not really a technical commentary about directing; it's a very strong commentary about how every single scene of a movie like this is structured in terms of story, from the ground up. Occasionally, there is some talk about production information, but the real pleasure is how well Madden speaks about the story elements.
Commentary Two: This is a commentary from many different people who were part of the cast and crew of the movie. All comments were recorded separately and then are edited together.
First I'll talk about the introductions from each person to give you an idea of who is talking on this commentary track. After the initial introductions are out of the way, who is speaking is not identified, so it does become a little hard to keep track of who is who. After this first paragraph, I'll go into a more general discussion of what is said. Producer Donna Gigliotti begins the commentary track with an interesting discussion of how the movie was originally at Universal before Miramax accquired it. Then Marc Norman, who was the screenwriter and producer speaks next, discussing how one of his sons gave him the idea for the movie and the process of how he proceeded throughout the writing of the initial screenplay . Tom Stoppard continues the writing discussion, talking about how he first became involved with the movie when it was at Universal . Producer David Parfitt then about how he joined the project, talking about how much he loved the idea of the movie and his initial discussions to work on the movie with Miramax .Production designer Martin Childs discusses the amount of research that he had to do to incorporate 20th century ideas into building the production of a film at this time. Actor Geoffrey Rush speaks about what was the first point that he knew that he wanted to do this movie as well as his first few days on the production and getting to know the character. Costume Designer Sandy Powell discusses her part of the production, talking about how she worked with the director and did research to get an idea of what would be historically accurate to the period. Cinematographer Richard Greatrex speaks about his first thoughts about the movie, thinking that the job that needed to be done on this picture was going to be an enormous effort. Actress Judi Dench talks about her relationship with director John Madden after working on "Mrs. Brown" and how she was more than willing to do another role working for the director. And suprise, Gwyneth Paltrow herself actually appears on this commentary track, discussing her thoughts on initially reading the screenplay and her thoughts on why the film is so successful. Ben Affleck also talks on this track, with his thoughts about Shakespeare as well as working with Joseph Fiennes. Actor Colin Firth comments later on in this track as well. At a little over an hour, there is yet another introduction, as actor Joseph Fiennes gives his thoughts on playing the role.
This also is more of a discussion of the actors, screenplay and plot rather than technical information. There is a lot of discussion of actors and characters, as it's mentioned by I believe Marc Norman that not only Geoffrey Rush's character was a real-life person, as well as another character that is included in the film. There is also a discussion of Gwyneth Paltrow's role in the film, and that Harvey Weinstein of Miramax would not likely have made the picture if she hadn't agreed to do it. Director John Madden also pops up again on this track, talking at one point about how Rupert Everett came to be involved with the movie, and how he chose his character. There are also notes from many involved about how the movie was able to update the ideas and concepts of the film and especially, make the dialogue more modern. Affleck provides some amusing tidbits about Miramax and how the studio got him involved with the picture.
Yes, some people on this track do speak more than others, but even those who speak two or three times still do provide an interesting viewpoint on the movie. Marc Norman, for instance, did seem to provide a great deal of the discussion on this track. Even though some of the actors only speak on occasion, I think I have to praise Miramax for getting thoughts from all of these people all on one commentary track. It's a very interesting commentary, giving the perspectives of an enormous amount of people who were involved with the making of this film.
TV Spots: Believe it or not, this disc includes 24 different television ads. Unfortunately, you can't watch them separately, they all play one after another when you select "TV Spots" from the menu.
Trailer: The original trailer is included
Shakespeare In Love and On Film:: This is more of a general documentary taking a look behind-the-scenes at the production of this picture and also, a look at the awards this picture won after release. There are interviews from many members of the cast, and thoughts from both writers on the history of Shakespeare and the way this picture looks at the writer's history. The documentary also takes a fine look at some of the earlier adaptations of Shakespeare's work on Film as well as a look at the production of the film - how all of the sets and costumes were built. What dissapointed me was that a couple of the comments that were made on this documentary by the actors, crew seem to have been taken and used on the 2nd commentary track. Otherwise though, this is an enjoyable (and long) documentary taking a look at the making of this film.
Academy Award Winning Costumes: A shorter documentary, this focuses more on the role that costumes played in the film and what research was done to produce these costumes.
Deleted Scenes: These are actually some very interesting scenes that were cut out of the picture, the first with Shakespeare saying goodbye to Paltrow's character and then working on his next play. There are a few other scenes, as well as a very funny outtake.
Also: "Shakespeare Facts" and "Biographies"(both are texts) and the usual "Film Recommendations"
Final Thoughts: A very enjoyable special edition, and it only makes me wish that they had released this edition first instead of just a basic release, then this "Collector's Edition" months later. Recommended.