In recent years I cannot think of many wins as controversial as ‘Shakespeare in Love’. People were generally shocked when it beat ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and swept the board in many of the major categories.
‘Shakespeare in Love’ is an original story about William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), and the period of his life when he writes Romeo and Juliet and falls in love. The object of his affection is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola de Lesseps, who pretends to be a man playing the part of Juliet, as in Elizabethan England, all parts were played by men.
Like ‘Annie Hall’ this is another film where the script is the star of the film. The comic script is witty and full of clever jokes based around the writing of Shakespeare, as we learn the ficticious story of how Romeo and Juliet was developed from a draft of Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter. The delightful script is certainly one of my favourites in the last few years.
The film swept the Oscars, including awards for Best Actress and Supporting Actress. These wins are unfortunately not my least favourite wins in this category. Paltrow is fine in her role, but it is not a particularly challenging role and she does not command the screen in my opinion, in the way that I feel other actresses with better comic timing could have done. I am a big fan of Judi Dench, but her role as Queen Elizabeth is so minute that it’s not really Oscar worthy.
I actually much preferred Joseph Fiennes’s performance in the title role. I think he is quick, witty and utterly charming, and I was really impressed by this performance. I much perfer his performance as a woman than Paltrow's performance as a man. The shock of the show is, however, Ben Affleck, as an actor set to play the part of Mercutio. I cannot think of a single Ben Affleck film in which he delivers a good performance, and yet in this film he is witty and manages to laugh at himself without dominating his scenes.
The film is full of some of the best British comic actors: Martin Clunes, Tom Wilkinson, Geoffrey Rush, Imelda Staunton: all of whom deliver the solid performances that one would expect.
I am not naturally a fan of comedy films, and the comedy genre is the most subjective of films, but I really enjoyed ‘Shakespeare in Love’. It’s not your average comedy: it’s original, witty and includes a solid cast. It’s a shame that this film is slated so much as I think that as a winner it was an original and interesting choice.