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Oscars Challenge #55: Shakespeare in Love (1998) Movie Review


I got to say. The Academy messed up this one. 1998 has some pretty interesting Best Picture nominees: Life Is Beautiful, Elizabeth, The Thin Red Line, and Saving Private Ryan are all great movies. I am unsure why the most incredible movie award-giving body handed the prize to Shakespeare In Love.


Is it because the great William Shakespeare is in it?


One of the most controversial Best Picture winners, Shakespeare In Love is a fictional story about the great William Shakespeare, who suffers writer's block with a new comedy, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter. He works for Philip Henslowe, who struggles with his debt but begins auditioning people for the new play. Meanwhile, Viola de Lesseps disguises herself as a man named Thomas Kent to audition after witnessing Shakespeare's plays several times. She runs after he questions her. Shakespeare chases her and leaves a note to her maid telling Thomas Kent should go to the rehearsals.


Shakespeare sneaks at a ball at the house where Viola's parents arrange a meeting with Lord Wessex. While dancing with Viola, Shakespeare found himself struck by her beauty. Lord Wessex tries to confront and threatens to kill him. Shakespeare and Viola confess their mutual feelings for each other, and the two begin their secret affair.


Inspired by Viola, Shakespeare transforms the play into what will become Romeo and Juliet. They begin rehearsals as Thomas Kent assumes the role of Romeo. Soon, Shakespeare discovers Viola's disguise, but the two continue their affair. He wagers with Lord Wessex that he will produce a play that will capture the true nature of love.


This film is stacked with great actors: Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, Colin Firth as Lord Wessex, and Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I. Ben Affleck also have a minor role in this film as one of Shakespeare's friends, Ned. It's nice to see Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in their earlier work together. A couple of years later, they will be in The King's Speech which once again won the Best Picture award.


I am not against this film's plot or anything. It is good to see a lighter side of William Shakespeare even though the story is entirely fictional. I like the chemistry between Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes. The other supporting cast, especially Judi Dench, are all bombshells. I didn't like Viola's character, even if she is one of the main cast. Often times, her decisions don't make sense.


The whole plot, for me, is pretty good. It mixes comedy, drama, and romance with its vast array of characters. The ending is too predictable and connects with another one of Shakespeare's works, Twelfth Night. Technically, Romeo and Juliet is the film's main focus, but it leads to his other work at the end.


The problem is that this film went against the giants. I have watched Saving Private Ryan, and the first 30 minutes of it eclipses this film by a wide margin. Maybe the Academy doesn't want Saving Private Ryan's brutality and bloodshed and chooses a fictional William Shakespeare romance. There are some years that the voters of the Oscars choose weird winners. Maybe if this film competed in a different year, it would've won without question.


This might've been one of the prominent movies that propelled Gwyneth Paltrow to superstardom. Her win as the Best Actress might have cemented her legacy leading up to her recent roles like the well-known Pepper Potts from the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. She might have controversially won over Cate Blanchett in her role in Elizabeth, but I think she did a pretty decent job.


I would rather see a non-fictionalized biography film about William Shakespeare than this. Especially for those history buffs that want to see how Shakespeare came up with all those poems or comedies that cemented his legacy as one of the greatest. I'd buy a ticket for that kind of film.


Overall, Shakespeare In Love is a lovely film if you are into a romance with a little bit of comedy. It starts slow, with many forgettable parts in the middle, but the pivotal theater play at the end might've summed up the whole movie.


Despite its controversy with another Best Picture nominee, Saving Private Ryan, I still give this movie two and a half stars out of 5.

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