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When William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) needs passionate inspiration to break a bad case of writer's block, a secret romance with the beautiful Lady Viola (Paltrow) starts the words flowing like never before. There are just two things he'll have to learn about his new love: not only is she promised to marry someone else, she's successfully impersonating a man in order to play the lead in Will's latest production. (From the Lionsgate synopsis)

 Shakespeare in Love
I feel like an apologist when I tell people that I like Shakespeare in Love, which is odd for a film that won seven Academy Awards. It seems the most common criticism of the film is that " Saving Private Ryan was better". I'm not one to disagree. And I understand that mentality. I'll always hold a grudge toward Dances with Wolves for winning over Goodfellas, but I feel like the upset over the 1998 Best Picture category caused a lot of people to undeservedly revile Shakespeare in Love instead of criticizing the Academy for their voting. Judged on its own merits, it is a delightful comedy and an enormously clever take on a historical figure that we've all come across in our education.

Weaving together references, characters and lines from a variety of Shakespeare's work, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard have created a unique screenplay that puts an unusual twist on the tired forbidden love plot line. The cast is extraordinary. Joseph Fiennes, who has never really caught my attention, makes for a believable young William Shakespeare. Geoffrey Rush and Ben Affleck give hilarious supporting performances that do wonders for the movie's charm, and Gwyneth Paltrow gives the best performance of her career. Say what you want about the Best Picture category, but she earned her Oscar. Judi Dench, on the other hand, does a fine job but her role in the film is far too brief and limited to be award-worthy.

 Shakespeare in Love
Though I praise the storytelling and the magnificent cast, I'm not in love with John Madden's directing or the cinematography from Richard Greatrex. The productions values that went into sets and costumes are astounding, but the technical work surrounding the filming process doesn't feel nearly as inspired. The sword fighting scenes are particularly clumsy. I don't need a martial arts masterpiece, but the continuity and plausibility of the brawls leave something to be desired. Luckily, such scenes are not why you watch a film of this nature. For a romantic comedy it is startlingly mature and effective and it uses brilliantly uses Shakespearean history to witty effect and to elicit a strong emotional response. It's also really funny at times.  

 Shakespeare in Love

Video


Shakespeare in Love is a loaded with brilliant colours, particularly when it comes to the costume and set design. The best thing I can say about this 1080p transfer is that the colours look absolutely rich and vibrant. Almost too vibrant, as if they've been digitally boosted. It would come as no surprise to me, as other elements of the transfer show traces of digital tinkering. There's evidence of edge enhancement, though not a fatal amount. You can even see some faint haloing where the picture meets the matting.

Though it was filmed on 35 mm, the picture is suspiciously free of grain throughout most of the film. I'm left to believe that DNR has been applied. Special effects shots look especially rough (see the second screen cap) but given the films age I'll chalk it up to the source. Bit rate doesn't seem to be the issue. The feature is an unusually large 36 GB on a BD-50 and only has one audio track. As a result the picture is relatively free from compression artefacts. If you stand far back the image looks pretty good, but when viewed on a big screen and put under the magnifying glass, the digital fiddling rears its ugly head. The level of detail and the colours especially have something to gain from the high definition presentation, but I'm sure this film could look a lot better with more time and effort put into a remastering.

 Shakespeare in Love

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track is a surprising treat. Outdoor scenes are filled with the sounds of villagers and nature, filling the surround channels nicely to create a sense of time and place. The same impressive sound spread is prominent whenever an audience watching a play shares a collective gasp or applause. There's a scene where characters dance and the soundtrack is populated with air and string instruments that have a believable dispersion within the environment. Dialogue is easy to make out, even if it takes a little work to interpret the Shakespearean manner that most of it is spoken with. Lastly but not least, Stephen Warbeck's score is especially pleasant sounding and moving on the track. The overall quality sounds a bit dated, understandably, but this is still an exceptional effort.

 Shakespeare in Love

Extras


There are two Audio Commentaries. The first, and my personal favorite of the two, is with director John Madden. I haven't heard a commentary track from him before, and he's easy to listen to. He spends most of the time going into detail about the shooting process, working with the actors, and shares some memories from being on set. The second commentary track features a whole slew of people. There are producers Donna Gigliotti and David Parfitt, screenwriters Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, costume designer Sandy Powell, cinematographer Richard Greatrex, production designer Martin Childs, and actors Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. I don't know if I've ever seen a commentary track with more people, but it is impressively edited from separate recordings to make sure that the person speaking is an expert on what's happening in the film. Those looking for an informative look at the production will find tons of information here.

Shakespeare in Love and on Film (SD, 21:40) is a dated but informative behind-the-scenes look that was made after the film's Oscar success. It has a hammy narration over segments of it, and seems intended to promote the movie even though it spoils much of the plot, but there is some good interview footage with cast members and filmmakers. Madden, Stoppard and Norman give a lot of insight into the origin of the project and how it developed. There's also a brief look at some Shakespeare stories on film.

 Shakespeare in Love
Academy Award Winning Costumes (SD, 02:27) is a short but neat look at costume designer Sandy Powell ( Velvet Goldmine). She talks about her inspiration for the costumes and seems very happy with how it turned out.

Deleted Scenes (SD, 10:49): A handful of mostly alternate footage from the movie. There's an alternate version of the ending, the brawl at the Rose Theatre, and some more footage from the tavern. There's not a lot of new or particularly memorable material here, and it's all lumped into one viewing portion with no introduction or commentary options.

Lastly, there is a Theatrical Trailer (SD, 02:03) and TV Spots (SD, 09:47) for if you're feeling nostalgic about 90's movie advertisements.
 
 Shakespeare in Love

Overall


Shakespeare in Love receives some misguided criticism for its infamous Best Picture win, but when I set that aside and look at the film for what it is I feel a great fondness for it. The inspired writing and talented array of performers were fun to revisit, and I won't wait another decade to rewatch it after this viewing. The Blu-ray from Lionsgate is the best the film has ever looked, but it still leaves room for improvement. The audio track is is impressive, and the extras ported over from the Miramax Collector's Series are enough to satisfy fans.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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