By Alex Hanson, Creative Designer, W Media Group
Shakespeare in Love (1999) is a classic romantic comedy that holds up as an essential feel-good period piece. A young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) finds his “muse” in a young woman, Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) disguised as a man so she can act in Shakespeare’s upcoming premiere of Romeo and Juliet. Their blossoming romance inspires Will’s writing of the in-progress play, but Will and Viola’s secret love is tested when she is arranged to wed the villainous Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).
Today’s viewers will get a kick out of seeing current A-listers in this late-90s classic. Joseph Fiennes, who more recently starred as The Commander in The Handmaid’s Tale and Timothy Howard in American Horror Story, taking on the role of a plucky young Will Shakespeare. A pre-Goop, pre-Pepper Potts Gwyneth Paltrow shines as Viola, a strong lead who is passionate, outspoken, ambitious enough to pretend to be a man in order to audition for Shakespeare’s play. Colin Firth plays Lord Wessex, the mustached villain who arranges to marry Viola. This role is a treat for those who know Firth as the lovable romantic interests in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love, Actually, and Mamma Mia!, or more recently as Harry Hart in the Kingsmen franchise.
Beyond the nostalgia factor, this movie is well-written and produced. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 92% fresh rating. Shakespeare in Love also enjoyed a well-deserved parade of glory at the 1999 Oscars with seven wins out of its thirteen nominations. including best picture. Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar and Golden Globe for best actress as Viola.
For those who hesitate to invest two hours of their life into an Oscar-winning period piece for fear of it being stuffy, slow, or hard to follow, fear not. This film is quickly-paced, with a solid dose of humor and likeable characters. The dialogue follows the language and pacing of Shakespeare’s time, but is easy to follow. The look of the film is refreshing for a period piece, with a bright, warm color palette and colorful sets and costumes. Those who enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s plays in school will love that the plot draws on Shakespearean comedy elements of mistaken identities, forbidden romance, and plays-within-plays, borrowing heavily from Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night.
Shakespeare in Love is the perfect lighthearted rom-com for a friends’ night in or a rainy weekend afternoon. NYU students can watch it on HBO Go for free by logging in with their NYU netID. It is also available for rent on Amazon and iTunes.
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