The movie's success, when you think about it, stems largely from the fact that a lot of the story more or less follows the very same narrative patterns that we've seen Shakeaspeare employ himself many, many times. It's generally accepted that his stories work on an almost universal level - so why not in this movie, right?
This is not to take away from the obvious success that this movie has garnered. Personally I feel the accolades are certainly deserved given all the creative effort that went into this film. And of course there's the more fundamental fact of just how fun this movie is!
Synopsis: Shakespeare in Love is a 1998 British romantic comedy directed by John Madden with a screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. The movie won a total of 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress for Gwyneth Paltrow and Best Supporting Actress for Judi Dench.
William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is a struggling playright when the movie begins and is currently struggling to finish his latest play, "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter". But he feels like he lacks inspiration and goes in search of a muse. But Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush), who owns the Rose Theater, is under significant pressure to pay back his debts and to do that he needs a play. Thus he in turn pressures Shakespeare.
Eventually they start holding auditions for the role of Romeo even though the play itself remains unfinished. One actor who seems especially suited for the role of Romeo is young Thomas Kent, who is really Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), who loves the theater but has to take on this disguise to get around the ban on women on stage. Soon enough Shakespeare finds out who Viola really is and their little romance begins.
From a somewhat nerdy perspective, what I most love about this movie are the number of various Shakespearean tropes throughout the entire story. You have people reciting famous lines, props from other works flashed on screen and of course the people themselves acting out some of his more popular plot devices. Thus we have the woman disguised as a man, a big sword fight and of course the Queen being there all the time.
Admittedly I most love this movie for Dame Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth. When I re-watched this movie for this review I was surprised by how little screen time she actually has. And that makes her performance all the more impressive given she was able to remain so memorable for all of us despite only being in a supporting role. This is not to say that Gwyneth Paltrow was undeserving of her Oscar. She certainly worked hard to earn that achievement and definitely deserved it.
The movie is remarkably witty and intelligent and that goes a long way towards why this movie has been so successful. As much as I can respect slapstick comedies, movies like this one are so much more fulfilling since the jokes require you to truly pay attention. And it's not like it'll take all that effort to do so - the movie as a whole possesses a very compelling story that flows well from scene to scene.
While others will probably disagree, I totally understand why this movie won Best Picture and I support the final decision. I do wish that Madden had won Best Director, but that was a tricky year that had this movie up against Life is Beautiful and Saving Private Ryan. So yeah, it was a pretty tight race.
Shakespeare in Love is a smart, fulfilling comedy that is most especially rewarded for Shakespeare fans (but still works if you're not). It fully deserves 5 moments of Judi Dench being awesome out of a possible 5.