Shakespeare in Love (1998)

shakespeare in love poster 1998 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Some clever gender bender stuff and parallels

A weak Best Picture, tries too hard

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Shakespeare in Love

Studio:  Miramax Films

Genre(s):  Drama/Romance/Comedy

Release Date(s):  December 3, 1998

MPAA Rating:  R


I’m Shakespeare…and I’m in love

William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is looking for his muse.  He’s managed to convince people to back his play Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and found surprise backing from Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson) who his hoping for a payout.  Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a love of the theater but finds herself excluded for being a woman.  She’s scheduled to be married to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) who vows to take her to Virginia and he has the permission of Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench).  When Viola disguises herself as a boy to try out for Shakespeare’s new play, both find the love they are seeking…and could create one of the greatest plays of love of all time.


So, I’m a woman playing a man who is wooing a woman being played by a man?

Directed by John Madden, Shakespeare in Love is a fictional biopic telling the creation of Shakespeare’s famous work Romeo and Juliet.  The dramatic romance-comedy was praised by critics and became a surprise hit.  The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress (Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Dench), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, Best Original Screenplay and nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Rush), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Sound.

1998 was a big year at the Oscars and an odd year.  All of the films nominated were either Elizabeth I based (with Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love) or World War II films (Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line).  Of all the films, Shakespeare in Love was the safest and the lightest…and it was rather a surprise that it ended up on top.


Wait, Joseph are you acting or asleep?

Honestly, I like how Saving Private Ryan looks, but I do dislike the story.  I can’t say however that I love Shakespeare in Love which has some very smartly written parts but also tries too hard to be clever.  The movie does do some strong stuff by having the clever parallels between Romeo and Juliet and the script and some of the gender bending has some nice allusions to some of Shakespeare’s other work.

The movie doesn’t claim to be a true story, but the cross references to Shakespeare’s other work and famous people are a bit too much.  I can suspend some disbelief at points, but Virginia didn’t even exist at the time of Shakespeare in Love…could they have just have said “the New World”? Not to mention, the story of Romeo and Juliet wasn’t an original story.


That’s right…I’m the queen and demand an Oscar!

The acting in the movie is quite strong, but once again, the script is too light.  Paltrow won for her performance of Viola, but I much preferred Cate Blanchette’s Elizabeth portrayal.  Joseph Fiennes is rather bland as William Shakespeare, but he has nice support from Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, Colin Firth as the evil Lord Wessex, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson, Imelda Staunton, and Jim Carter.  Rupert Everett makes an uncredited appearance as the doomed Christopher Marlowe.  Judi Dench was also a surprise winner since her screentime was the second shortest winner following Network’s Beatrice Straight.


Ugly kiss face Gwyneth

The movie also just isn’t as rich as the other nominees that year.  I would argue that though Shakespeare in Love does look good, the other four nominees looked better.  The movie was very set based (due to being wrapped around plays) and it had what you’d expect from a Shakespearian play film.

Shakespeare in Love was just in the right place at the right time and benefited from being a light movie in a heavy year.  With that fortune, it makes it almost impossible not to compare it to the competitors while watching it.  The movie shouldn’t have won (of the choices I’m very surprised that Saving Private Ryan didn’t win though I think that Elizabeth or The Thin Red Line should have won).  Shakespeare is Love is a slightly above average romance comedy that is one of the weaker Best Pictures.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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