Shakespeare in Love – A general analysis on a perhaps overrated movie

„An english title?!?“, you might think. Don’t worry I’ll stick to German, but I thought it was worth a try writing something in English and so I took the opportunity to write a review about a movie we watched in school, only to see how hard it is to do such a thing in a language that I’m not as used to. 

„Wieso ist das plötzlich Englisch?“, fragt ihr euch. Keine Sorge, ich bleibe meinen Wurzeln treu. Ich wollte nur sehen, wie es ist, eine Kritik auf English zu schreiben und so sah ich es als gute Möglichkeit den Film, den wir im Englischunterricht geschaut hatten, als Versuchsobjekt zu gebrauchen; um zu sehen wie ich mich in einer Sprache schlage, an die ich nicht so gewohnt bin.

„Shakespeare in Love“, directed by John Madden, tells the story of the famous playwright who is on the verge of writing his masterpiece „Romeo and Juliet“. But actually, it is a movie about love, comedy, drama and a battle of classes.

Summary

We’re in London towards the end of the 16th Century, where our well known author is having troubles finishing his stories. It is the common case of „Writer’s block“. When he starts casting people for his newest comedy „Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter“, Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a very rich merchant, fan of Shakespeare, disguises herself as Thomas Kent just to be able to play Romeo in that play. William then follows him(her) to the mansion of the de Lesseps family, where he dances with Viola just to utterly fall in love with her.
This is the beginning of the tragedy that is to follow, where everyone takes on a disguise and claims to be someone else, where the working class fights the upper class.

What I liked

This movie is one of the few that is able to create an authentic feeling of 16th Century London. Dirty roads, playwrights and theatre owners with money problems, high class consciousness and a ruling aristocracy. Not only were the scenes beautifully made, but the costume work was one of the best I have ever seen.

The movie is starring a lot of famous people such as Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, the theatre owner, or Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I, which are actually quite fun to look for, because it is not always that easy to look behind those strange looking haircuts and dresses.

Funny dialogues follow dramatic twists which are followed by very romantic scenes with William and Viola. Very well written lines are highlighted by good camera movement as well as framing and a well chosen soundtrack by Stephen Warbeck.

In addition the writers played with multiple layers of plots, as in having Shakespeare writing his masterpiece as one plot and Viola’s and William’s lovestory as an other plot which is being incorporated in Shakespeare’s future work „Twelfth Night“. They play with smooth transitions between scenes, where you don’t always know whether you are on the stage or behind the curtain, whether you see Romeo or Will, Juliet or Viola.

What I didn’t like
Although the lines were well written, as stated before, I couldn’t see past the fact that this movie has won seven(!) Academy Awards. I think I could have liked the motion picture, but knowing that Gwyneth Paltrow has won an Oscar for just playing a woman, dressing up as a man, who loves Shakespeare and only seems to be there to look good while being naked. That might sound harsh but unfortunately it is how I felt after having watched the movie for the third time of my live. I remember how I liked it when I was a little boy, maybe just because it was funny, maybe because I didn’t know what makes a good movie, or maybe only for the simple reason that I wasn’t biased by the good reception. This is even more supported by the fact that Judi Dench has won an Oscar for a seven minutes appearance as the Queen, where she looks very immobile in this huge dress and you can’t even see one motion of her face behind her make-up and under her severe haircut.
Additionally one sometimes has to doubt the intelligence of some of the characters, as for example William who does not seem capable of distinguishing a disguised Viola from Thomas Kent.

Conclusion

Although it might sound like I couldn’t see the strengths of this movie, as in its play with the different plots, I think that the very well written lines, as stated earlier, sometimes seemed like they were too much, too kitschy. I do not want to say that you cannot like this movie, but I do say that in my opinion it is overrated. It is nice to see a lot of well known British actors at once and it is nice to see such an old story being adapted to our time, but that is not enough reason to swamp it with Oscars; some of them like „Best Costume Design“ are well deserved whereas some like „Best Picture“ and „Best Actress and Supporting Actress“ aren’t.

Did this film really deserve that much appreciation?
You have to ask yourself this question as soon as you compare it to the movies that could have won: Spielberg’s „Saving Private Ryan“ and Terrence Malick’s „The Thin Red Line“ starring Sean Penn. Movies which I consider to be two of the best of all time.

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