Shakespeare in Love (1998)


The sonnet Will Shakespeare writes for Viola that begins: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is number 18 in the 1609 collection. Sonnets 1-126, including this one, were all written for a male friend of Bill’s, either for Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton or for William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. Bill the Bard, it seems, may have batted for both sides.

The great advantage about writing a screenplay for a story on Shakespeare is that you pretty much have carte blanche to write whatever you fancy. So little is known about the man, and what we think we do know is often contradictory. What is generally accepted, however, is that the plot for his Romeo and Juliet was pinched from an Italian play written a century or so earlier. For those romantics who think Viola had anything to do with bawdy Bill’s life, alas, she is a fictional figure.

Most everyone else appearing in Shakespeare in Love were real people, however. Philip Henslowe did own the Rose Theatre and the Burbage family owned and operated the Curtain. Richard Burbage and Ned Alleyn were actual Elizabethan ‘stars’ of the day and, of course, Christopher Marlowe was a real playwright who did indeed catch a knife in his eye at Deptford. Deptford Strand was about three miles from London. Marlowe was staying there because the plague had not yet spread that far from the capital. Debate still persists about whether or not he wrote some of Bill’s works. There is also considerable argument over why Marlowe died. This movie favours a dispute over who would pay the restaurant bill. Other sources say he was targeted by paid assassins for some reason or other.

The ‘too late’ remark by the Queen, when a courtier misses his opportunity to throw his cloak over a muddy puddle in her path, alludes to the Sir Walter Raleigh gesture so often cited in stories of the Elizabethan Age. In fact, Wally did no such thing. Seventeenth century historian Thomas Fuller had a bad habit (especially for an historian) of embellishing his otherwise boring historical stories with the occasional fabrication. The ‘cloak in the puddle’ tale was one of his creations.

This movie was originally a vehicle for Daniel Day-Lewis and Julia Roberts as far back as 1991 when they were an item. The project was, however, shelved for seven years until it was recast with Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in the leads. Paltrow and the picture won Oscars as did Dame Judi Dench, although she appeared on screen for just eight minutes. In 2004 Gwyneth gave birth to a daughter whom she lumbered with the idiotic Christian name of Apple. We wait with bated breath for the day when Miss Apple has a child. Will she call it Pip or Seed or Worm? Will Granny Paltrow change her name to Granny Smith? Will anybody care?

One minute Gwyneth is posing as Thomas Kent and wearing a super-short red wig supposedly over her huge long blonde locks, the next she is displaying a mass of golden tresses stretching halfway down her back! Are we really meant to believe that all that hair is hidden under that tiny red wig? A really obvious flaw, yet this enjoyable piece of fluff knocked off the powerful Saving Private Ryan for the Best Picture Oscar.

And when the Queen suddenly flings off her cloak at the premiere of Romeo & Juliet, revealing that she has somehow sneaked into the Curtain without being recognised, are we really supposed to accept that as well? Apart from the fact that she is wearing one of her usual gowns (the ones that take up about four seats), her royal carriage is parked out the front of the building for crying out loud! And what about the huge retinue that accompanied her everywhere she went? Did they go un-noticed as well? Mistake after mistake.

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