Top positive review
The Bard would be pleased, methinks
on June 14, 2001
This is the kind of movie the Academy loves and through its love, rewards.
The script by Stoppard and Norman is erudite and cunning, passionate and playful, filled with witticisms by and about the Bard; and the parallels to Shakespeare and his work, especially the play within a play, Romeo and Juliet, and the play to come, Twelfth Night, are marvelous and a bit miraculous. The romantic direction by Madden conjures up an Elizabethan England and its London theatre with enough lusty color to delight the poet himself. The acting is wonderful with Gwyneth Paltrow conquering a very demanding and delightful four-part role as Viola/Tom Kent, and on the stage as first Romeo and then as Juliet! Joseph Fiennes as the young Shakespeare writing his Romeo and Juliet on the fly, fired with the energy from his adulterous love for the lovely Viola, is better than advertised.
Of course what would a Shakespearean play or a great Hollywood movie be without its bit players and supporting roles? Judi Dench as the queen in her Academy Award winning performance gives the impression of somebody doing something marvelously well but with such ease as to look unemployed. (I stole that line from somewhere.)
From the gutter snipe with his rodents to the queen's bad teeth, from Colin Firth's delightfully villainous Lord Wessex to Geoffrey Rush's wise, but bumbling stage manager, from the tavern trollops to the gentry at the ball (in which the sonnet within a play from Romeo and Juliet is once again given life by Fiennes and Paltrow) everything is expertly presented. You don't have to be a Shakespearean buff to appreciate this resplendent romantic comedy, but if you are, your experience will be enhanced.
This is Hollywood at its best. For all the clunkers and the mass-mindless indulgences that are the usual fare-tinsel town, you are forgiven!