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In general, writer’s block is a blessing: it has saved readers reams of lousy literature that never got written. But when young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) becomes pen-tied, the future of English literature is imperiled. For his new play he has a title–Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter–but not a clue. This is a man in search of a muse, which fate, in the form of screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, brightly provides. Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) has it all: beauty, poise, a dowry and a titled suitor. But what she really wants is to act.
Shakespeare in Love fancifully retells the creation and premiere of Romeo and Juliet. It peoples the London of 1593 with the usual suspects–Christopher Marlowe (crafty Rupert Everett), Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench, a sly dominatrix)–and some ageless show-biz types: the poverty-pleading producer (Geoffrey Rush), the backer with a lust for limelight (Tom Wilkinson). Director John Madden works in jokes about profit sharing and credit hogging, and a climax in which the real star steps in for an indisposed leading lady.
But the true, rare glamour of the piece is its revival of two precious movie tropes: the flourishing of words for their majesty and fun, and–in the love play between Fiennes and his enchantress–the kindling of a playfully adult eroticism. Let the kids toy with their Rugrats and hold their Sandler high. Shakespeare in Love is a movie to please the rest of us, parched for a game of dueling, reeling romance.
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