Shakespeare in Love - * * * 1/2*

Shakespeare in Love is a delightful romantic comedy with a literary twist. A fictionalized account of a few months of Shakespeare’s life, the film manages to humanize the greatest English writer of all time, and delivers a splendid time while doing it.

The film is set in 1593, when William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) was just a struggling playwright with a bad case of writer’s block. The debt-ridden owner of The Rose theater (Geoffrey Rush) has commissioned his latest play, a romantic comedy entitled Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter…but Shakespeare is at a loss where to start.

Enter the dazzlingly beautiful and rich Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a young lady who would much prefer the life of a player to her life as the future wife of a pompous aristocrat, Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). To these ends, she disguises herself as a man (since women are forbidden to take to the stage), and auditions for the part of Romeo in her favorite poet Shakespeare’s latest play.

Meanwhile, a chance encounter with the undisguised Viola sets Shakespeare’s heart all aflutter. His infatuation gives him renewed inspiration for writing his play, but it also may turn deadly, as Lord Wessex wants no rivals for his wife-to-be…particularly not a low-born playwright.

The screenplay of Shakespeare in Love, written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, is both literate and accessible. The wordplay is absolutely frantic, and even something the Shakespeare-illiterate will enjoy. From Shakespearean allusions, to pure physical comedy, the film incorporates the same mixture of high-and-low humor as many of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s something for everyone in this ingenious script.

Sure, there are a few anachronistic twists thrown in here and there, but they only enhance the playful mood of the film. The film is obviously not striving to be mistaken for bland history. But there are enough historical details here and there to satisfy the amateur historian.

Joseph Fiennes is simply mesmerizing as Shakepeare, particularly when delivering the tongue-twisting dialogue at a frenetic pace. However, the true marvel of the film is Gwyneth Paltrow, who radiantly shines as Viola. Here, she has a role which allows her a fiery mixture of strength and passion. She makes it perfectly believable that a character like hers could inspire one of the most inspired poets.

Not merely a period piece, Shakespeare in Love is the rival of many a modern-day romantic comedy. The solid acting and delightful screenplay raise this one above the crowd to be the best romantic comedy of the season.

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