Shakespeare In Love was a good, safe, Oscar winner, grabbing 7 statues in 1998. Very clever movie with great performances and, for you Shakespeare buffs (of which I am, sadly, not), I'll bet there's a million inside jokes. I wrote about this entertaining flick on November 22, 2002, but I've seen it several times since.
Shakespeare In Love is the 1998 blockbuster that won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Leading Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow, Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench, and the big enchillada, Best Picture. Reflecting the non-discrimatory tastes of the Academy voters, this is a very pleasing film without any hard edges, but a wonderful time nonetheless. I liked it so much I bought the DVD, as it is defintely worth watching a few times.
Joseph Fiennes (Ralph Fienne's little brother) is William Shakespeare and he is in a ton of trouble. He's got writer's block while working on his new pirate play (Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter!) and two theater owners breathing down his neck for him to produce. While hanging out with some musician friends at a local ball, he becomes smitten with the very beautiful Viola De Lesseps, played with incredible charm, beauty and intensity by Ms. Paltrow. Ms. Lesseps desperately wants to become involved in a play, but contemporary social (and legal) mores prohibit it. But she dresses up as a boy and gets the leading part in the now energized Shakespeare's new play.
Eventually Shakespeare unveils the ruse and they become involved, despite the vast difference in social standing - her the daughter of a very rich noble, him nearly a pauper, earning a living by writing, of all things, plays. Then she becomes forcibly engaged to the mean Lambert, who only wants her father's money. Lead by her muse, William goes on to write Romeo and Juliet, one of the most enduring and romantic plays of all time.
It is all incredibly charming, witty and fun to watch. All the actors are superb, including Geoffery Rush as one of the theater owners at his wit's end trying to get this play produced (he keeps saying the wonderful line "Strangely enough, it all turns out well." - "How?" - "I don't know. It's a mystery."), Martin Clunes as Burbage, who is owed money by Rush and decides to bankroll the new "pirate" play, and Simon Callow, who is trying to close down the playhouses, as well as the aforementioned actors. Fiennes gives a nuanced performance as Shakespeare and I'm surprised to see he wasn't even nominated.
Shakespeare in Love does not require knowledge of Shakespearean lore. I know a little but not all that much, and I'm sure there is plenty more depth to be plumbed if you did know more about his plays and the times (there's plenty of lines dropped from various of his plays, I'm sure). But it is such a clever screenplay, and a powerful love story, that it overcomes any inside jokes and becomes a really fun night at the movies.