‘We must show them that we are men of parts. Will Shakespeare has a play. I have a theatre…’
I am currently studying the Christopher Marlowe play Doctor Faustus as part of my English degree. When I say studying, I mean taking every opportunity available to ‘research’ Doctor Faustus without actually reading any of my textbooks. John Madden’s Shakespeare In Love provides the unique combination of an on screen portrayal of Marlowe with the worlds greatest actor Ben Affleck. A no brainer.
Alas, both the character Marlowe and the handsome actor Ben Affleck are only bit part players in this mostly fictionalized account of Will Shakespeare’s writers block and subsequent love affair, set against the backdrop of Romeo and Juliet being performed for the first time. Alongside Affleck is every British actor ever with Gwyn Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Joseph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson and even Martin bloody Clunes all making an appearance. Gwynny won an Oscar for her turn as Shakey’s muse but it is Fiennes as the bard himself who shines the most. Affleck manages to stave of embarrassment at a time in his career when he was succumbing to it everywhere else and Rush, Wilkinson, Judi Dench et al are all routinely excellent. Dench, in particular, is a revelation as the acid tongued monarch Queen Elizabeth I.
All that being said, it is perplexing as to quite how Shakespeare In Love is deserving of it’s jaw dropping 7 Oscar wins. It is genuinely funny in parts but in that self satisfied, smug way that only British comedies can be. The story has plenty of winks and nods to Shakespeare and his plays, without being in any way complex or challenging. It is, in short, a solid idea, executed very well.
So, a lot to admire about Shakespeare In Love but it is hard not to say that is overrated. The course of great cinema never did run smooth..
*It would be remiss of me not to mention Joseph Fiennes full name at some point in this review. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joseph Alberic Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes