Magazine article The Spectator

Backstage Winner

Magazine article The Spectator

Backstage Winner

Article excerpt

Shakespeare in Love is a lovely confection and one of the best and truest backstage movies since 42nd Street. It's 'by' Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, which is the unlikeliest credit since an ITV religious show of five or so years back which boasted `Title Music by Beethoven and Roy Castle'. Tom Stoppard is not, any more than old Ludwig, one of nature's co-authors, least of all with a fellow whose principal screen credits are the megaton bombs Waterworld and Cutthroat's Island.

As I understand it, Marc Norman came up with the original idea - not that original for those who know Shaw's one-act Dark Lady of the Sonnets. But, of course, Shaw never found himself working on Waterworld. After his experiences in Hollywood, Norman - like a zillion others before him - decided to do something about the vicissitudes of a writer's life. Then he had a better idea: why not do something about the vicissitudes of the writer's life? We can asssume that Shakespeare in Love was a more personal film to Norman than Waterworld. But something happened along the way, and I gather the finished version is mostly Stoppard's work.

It is, in its way, very Shakespearean. The Bard never had a decent idea in his life but he was a great rewrite man. So too is Stoppard: the result is a film that has the same Shakespearean ranges of cornball humour and deep feeling. And oddly enough the cornier it is, the truer it seems. Thus, we meet Will (Joseph Fiennes) in 1593, when he's blocked on his new comedy for the Rose Theatre, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter. Fortunately, the muse descends in the lissome shape of Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), who disguised as a man auditions for the part of Romeo. Unfortunately, she has a fiance, the Earl of Wessex (Colin Firth), who's broke and needs the dough Viola's arriviste parents will bring to the marriage. Further complicating matters is the old Queen herself (Judi Dench) who's inveigled Wessex into a 50 quid wager for anyone who can write a play about the nature of love.

The excellent script honours the film's Hollywood origins in the moneylender's cunning contract that gives Shakespeare a share of the play's profits (`There never are any profits,' explains the moneylender). Marc Norman understands the randomness of Hollywood accounting better than most: both Cutthroat's Island and Waterworld were monumental flopperoos, but, while Cutthroat's Island became the biggest money-loser of all time, somehow Waterworld wound up showing a profit on paper. …

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