[Screen It]


(1998) (Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Moderate Minor Moderate
Minor None Minor None Mild
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Romantic Comedy: Suffering a serious case of writer's block, playwright William Shakespeare hopes the intervention of a romantic muse will cure his literary malady.
It's 1593 London, and a young and struggling playwright, Will Shakespeare (JOSEPH FIENNES), has a series case of writer's block. With theater owners Philip Henslowe (GEOFFREY RUSH) and Richard Burbage (MARTIN CLUNES) anxious for his latest work, Will is desperate for any help, especially considering that he's competing against the likes of literary marvel, Christopher Marlowe (RUPERT EVERETT).

Desperate for the intervention of a romantic muse, he hopes that his female acquaintance, Rosaline (SANDRA REINTON), may cure his malady. When he finds her in bed with another man, however, he tears up his first draft and wonders how he'll ever finish his play, "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's daughter."

Agreeing to deliver his work to Henslowe who's being pressured by his financier, Fennyman (TOM WILKINSON), to open a play, Will's luck changes during casting auditions. Spotting the perfect young man, Thomas Kent, for the part of his hero, Will goes chasing after him unaware that he's really a she in disguise -- Viola De Lesseps (GWYNETH PALTROW), a wealthy debutante with a passion for the theater.

Unfortunately for her, no women are allowed on the stage in her time and thus every role is played by a man. Unfortunately for Will -- who falls for Viola once he learns of her ruse -- she's unknowingly engaged to Lord Wessex (COLIN FIRTH), a New World landowner who's received approval of his pending marriage from none other than Queen Elizabeth I (JUDI DENCH).

As their romance progresses and they continue working on the play that slowly becomes "Romeo and Juliet" -- with Viola still in disguise and popular actor Ned Alleyn (BEN AFFLECK) now in the cast, Will and Viola deal with her pending marriage to Wessex as well as efforts by others to close down the theater and Shakespeare's latest production.

Shakespeare will usually send most kids running for the hills, but the presence of Paltrow and Affleck may draw in some teens.
For sexuality.
  • JOSEPH FIENNES plays the playwright William Shakespeare who, despite reportedly being married, has a fling with Viola.
  • GWYNETH PALTROW plays a young lady with a passion for the theater in the days when women couldn't appear on stage. As a result, she dresses like a man to appear in the play. Along the way, she has an affair with Will while also learning that she's to be married to Wessex (against her will).
  • COLIN FIRTH plays a blowhard landowner who forces his way into marrying Viola.
  • BEN AFFLECK plays a renowned actor ready to work in Will's next play.


    OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
    Hollywood -- and for that matter, most moviegoers -- love the "what if" scenario. Often associated with big budget "summer" movies, it's the one sentence description that gets screenplays quickly sold and studio executives all excited.

    Coming in the form of a question, they've been known to ask, "What if someone found dinosaur DNA and then cloned real-life dinosaurs?" and "What if a teen traveled back in time and accidentally caused his future parents not to romantically fall for each other?"

    More often than not, however, "what if" scenarios are rarely used (in that sort of context) when describing historical period pieces that are often stuffy, chronological examinations of noteworthy people found in history books.

    Well, there's always an exception to the rule and it now comes in the form of "Shakespeare in Love." A delightful romantic comedy that plays off the idea of "What if Shakespeare had writer's block," the film also heavily utilizes the notion every writer has heard in his or her life, "Write what you know."

    As it comically suggests that the most revered writer in English literature had such blockage, and then went on to base his tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet" -- formerly known as "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's daughter" -- on his real life experiences, the film unfolds at a fast-paced, funny and decidedly intelligent clip.

    That's not to say that one needs to be a Shakespearean expert to enjoy the film -- although a working knowledge certainly won't hurt and will let viewers in on some of the "inside" jokes -- or that the mainstream audience will have to sit through hours of iambic pentameter (you won't).

    In fact, director John Madden (who also directed last year's wonderful "Mrs. Brown") and screenwriters Marc Norman ("Cutthroat Island") and Tom Stoppard ("Empire of the Sun" and playwright of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead") have smartly fashioned the work much like Shakespeare did his plays. With the fabulous story simultaneously working on many different levels, the audience can enjoy the proceedings whether they have a Ph.D. in English literature or only know that Shakespeare was some guy they studied in high school.

    From the "Tootsie" like gender bender material to the water taxi "drivers" -- who've been hilariously fashioned after typical modern day cabbies -- and much more, there's plenty of comedic material present to entertain everyone who sees this film. For those with a working knowledge -- or more -- of Shakespeare and his works, there's also plenty of clever and humorous references to some of the Bard's plays.

    Beyond the clever script and Madden's skillful direction -- with perfectly timed and balanced comedic and romantic elements occurring throughout the production -- it's the great cast (that many a film would simply die for) and their perfect performances that will put this film on most critics (and many moviegoers) top ten lists.

    Gwyneth Paltrow ("A Perfect Murder," "Emma") is perfectly cast as the young woman who wants poetry, adventure and, most importantly, love in her life. Always believable, Paltrow now appears to be one of the few actresses who can carry off both contemporary and period roles with no apparent difficulty.

    Also having no difficulty -- but this time for stepping out from under his more famous brother's shadow -- is Joseph Fiennes, sibling to "The English Patient's" Ralph Fiennes. Having already made himself visible via his role in this year's other good historical piece, "Elizabeth," Fiennes holds his own here. Perfectly suited for the dramatic, romantic, and comedic "demands" of this part, this may be Fiennes breakthrough role.

    The supporting cast is a dream and features a veritable who's who of great performers. From Geoffrey Rush ("Shine," "Elizabeth") to Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty," "The Governess") and Ben Affleck ("Armageddon," "Good Will Hunting") and including smaller bits by the likes of Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding"), the film is filled with great characters and performances.

    The obvious scene stealer and crowd pleaser, however, is Judi Dench ("Mrs. Brown," "Tomorrow Never Dies") as the regally stuffy, but wiser than she looks Queen Elizabeth I. Effortlessly sliding into the role of yet another English sovereign (she played Victoria in "Mrs. Brown"), Dench revels in the film's best character, and Madden proves to be prudently wise in not overusing her presence.

    While the film's obvious Shakespearean elements will most likely limit this film to more highbrow, adult audiences, if given the chance, more mainstream moviegoers will probably enjoy this delightful, funny and romantic picture. We give "Shakespeare in Love" an 8.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of this film's content. Several sexual encounters occur during the movie, some of which show graphic movement, while others show nudity (bare breasts). The worst of the limited profanity consists of two uses of the "s" word.

    Some none lethal violence occurs in the form of several sword fights (some played for laughs, others more realistically), and a few characters appear inebriated after spending time drinking in a tavern.

    Beyond that and a few bad attitudes, the rest of the film's categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness, however, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • Will and others have drinks in a tavern.
  • Will and his players again have drinks in a tavern (and some appear a bit inebriated).
  • We see the players in a tavern again and they appear even more inebriated.
  • We see a small (and now bloodless) cut on the side of Will's face (from a sword fight).
  • Lord Wessex has both toward nearly everyone, including Viola as he claims to be her "master" and arranges to marry her without her consent or knowledge.
  • We learn that Will has a wife (and was seeing Viola) but this is never fully explained.
  • A sword and knife fight between Will and Wessex is a little bit tense.
  • Knives: Used to threaten people in various scenes.
  • Swords: Used during the play in mock fights and also in real ones.
  • Phrases: "Dip your wick" (sexual), "I'll be damned," and "Nuts" (testicles).
  • Some kids may want to imitate the sword play/fighting that occurs in the film.
  • None.
  • A bit of dramatically suspenseful music occurs.
  • None.
  • 2 "s" words, 1 ass, 1 damn, and 4 uses of "By God" and 1 use of "Dear God" as exclamations.
  • A man asks Will how long it's been (ie. regarding being with a woman sexually).
  • Rosaline makes a comment about Will leaving a sonnet in her bed.
  • Will walks in and sees a man having sex with Rosaline (from behind her -- we briefly see movement, but no nudity).
  • Viola and her mother show some cleavage.
  • Wessex asks another man about Viola, "Is she fertile?" and the other man comments something to the effect that she does breed.
  • When describing Viola to Thomas Kent (Viola in disguise), Will says, "Did I describe her bosom?" and then briefly goes on to compare her breasts to round apples.
  • Will and Viola undress each other (he slowly unwraps the material that was flattening her breasts). They then kiss and we see her bare breasts (while her nurse fans herself outside the door in embarrassment). We then hear sounds of their bed moving (ie. from sex) and then see the nurse rocking her chair trying to cover those sounds. We then see them after they've had sex as they lie in bed.
  • The next morning she doesn't want him to get out of bed and we again see her bare breasts.
  • It's implied/shown that they have sex more times (and we see her bare breasts several more times such as when he's on top of her on a bed with some movement and passionate breathing and reactions).
  • The Queen warns Wessex about getting married to Viola and states "she's been plucked since I last saw her."
  • We see Rosaline having sex on top of a man with a great deal of movement, but no nudity (which continues even when another man enters and speaks with the first man).
  • Some prostitutes show cleavage in a tavern where they come on to Will and Viola (dressed as a young man). Fennyman also tells Viola (still dressed as a man) that he/she needs to "dip your wick" (have sex with a woman).
  • We see Will and Viola undressing once again, but don't see any nudity or movement.
  • None.
  • None.
  • That the movie is comically suggesting what formed and influenced the play, "Romeo and Juliet."
  • Why Wessex could marry Viola without her agreement or even knowledge (times were different back then).
  • We see Fennyman's henchmen lowering Henslowe's boots onto hot coals, and one of them holds a knife to his throat and then to his ear, prepared to cut either of them (all played for audience laughs).
  • Seeing that Will is interested in Viola, Wessex holds his knife to the playwright's throat and threatens him.
  • Wessex forcibly kisses Viola. In turn, she slaps him.
  • A sword fight breaks out between Will and his players and Burbage and his men with people being hit, pushed and punched as well. Will punches a man, Fennyman's thug slams two men's heads together, and Fennyman knocks a man out with a skull (all played for audience laughs).
  • There's talk that another playwright was killed.
  • Wessex shows up and gets into a sword/knife fight with Will.

  • Reviewed December 7, 1998 / Posted on December 25, 1998

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