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Vintage Review: Shakespeare in Love – A Romantic and Award-Winning Period Drama

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love Review

Shakespeare In Love is a romantic comedy and quasi-fictional biopic set in Elizabethan England. William Shakespeare is a young playwright who has yet to garner the fame he would know in later life. It is a funny, cheeky yet romantic period drama that celebrates the famous bard and his beloved works.

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Lady Violet

William Shakespeare is having trouble finding inspiration for his most recent play and is low on funds. Meanwhile, Lady Violet de Lesseps loves the theater but believes that love cannot be truly portrayed on stage as long as the women are played by pre-pubescent boys. Taking advantage of her parents temporary absence, Lady Violet disguises herself as Thomas Kent and auditions for William Shakespeare’s new play ‘Romeo and Ethel: The Pirates Daughter’. Enamored by the young man’s passion at the audition, Shakespeare follows him back to the house but meets Lady Violet instead.They begin a clandestine romance, spurred onward by his discovery of her deception. He is inspired once more to write and begins a new play, one about love. All seems to go well but neither of the lovers are free to love as they choose and it is only a matter of time until somebody else finds out who Thomas Kent really is.

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Thomas Kent

Shakespeare in Love is a witty period drama with the heart of a romantic comedy. In other words, it is a film which has a great deal to offer to a wide range of people. It has love, drama, comedy, literary references, history, satire, swashbuckling, masquerade, wagers and poetry.  Much like Shakespeare’s own plays it can be enjoyed on many levels, either as a romantic comedy, as a period drama, satire or a love letter to Shakespeare and the stage.

This is an extremely well-structured film with events from the plot perfectly matching up to scenes in the play that they are rehearsing. Shakespeare In Love makes use of intertextuality in a very effective way. Shakespeare’s words are lovingly woven into montages while Will and Violet fall in love as the play begins to take shape. To anyone with a passing familiarity with Shakespeare, especially Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night, it is a delight to catch the constant references and sly jokes. History buffs will also appreciate the inclusion of other real life characters such as Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Philip Henslowe, Ned Alleyn and Richard Burbage.

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Henslowe and some of the players

There are a wide variety of well-known actors such as Geoffrey Rush, Jim Carter, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Martin Clunes, Imelda Staunton, Tom Wilkinson and Rupert Everett. The actors, whether their roles were more comical or serious brought the characters fully to life and were entertaining to watch.  The leads were especially good. Also worthy of mention is the incomparable Dame Judi Dench who managed to win an Oscar for her commanding performance as Queen Elizabeth I despite having very little screen time.

The love story between Lady Violet and  William Shakespeare is beautiful and extremely romantic. Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow have a convincing chemistry, playing the romance with a great deal of passion.

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Shakespeare and Lady Violet share a dance

The tone of the film is always perfectly balanced and well paced. While there are a few deliberate anachronisms, such as Shakespeare visiting a sixteenth-century therapist centuries before Freud was born, the portrayal of Elizabethan England feels realistic. Artistic license is taken but only in service of creating a better story. The costume designer rightfully won an academy award for her beautiful and intricate work. While once again not being entirely accurate (the use of renaissance period costume for the performance would have been unlikely as players generally acted in clothes donated by wealthy benefactors) they are still wonderful.

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The players take a bow

All aspects of the film are done well and come together in such a way as to create a perfect piece of cinema and a worthy homage to the most famous name in English Literature.

Content Note: This film is rated R for some sexual scenes and brief nudity. There is one sex scene that is particularly explicit.

Photo Credits: Columbia TriStar/ Miramax


Five Corset Rating Lower Byte Size

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”


Five heart rating

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

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By on February 14th, 2016

About Elinor Cackett

Elinor is a writer and semi-recent graduate of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pen but her love affair with fiction started when the entirety of David Eddings’ 'The Belgariad' was read to her at age four. She currently has a couple of books and half a dozen short stories on the go. She spends her free time writing, analysing media and knitting very colourful scarves.

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