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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/16/99

Shakespeare in Love
1998 (1999) Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Shakespeare in Love Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/C-

Specs and Features

124 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:18:39), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, Shakespeare facts & historical biographies, film-themed menus, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

I'm so pleased about this, that I can't help but mention it up front - this year's Best Picture film is finally available on DVD, and it's Buena Vista's first anamorphic widescreen DVD to boot. Miramax pushed hard for this film to be so enhanced, and I'm glad they did, because the film deserves such treatment. And let me say right now, that I hope this indicates a major DVD policy change over at Buena Vista - all widescreen films should be presented in 16x9 on DVD. When the classic Disney animated titles arrive on DVD, may the widescreen among them ALL be anamorphic.

All right, I suppose I've made my point. Let's talk about this film and disc. Shakespeare in Love tells the fictional tale of a love affair that sparked the creative genius of no less than the bard himself, William Shakespeare. The story goes like this - Will (Joseph Fiennes) is having something of a creative crisis. He's promised a friend and theater owner (played by Geoffrey Rush) a comedy called Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, but he's lost his muse, his inspiration for writing. Still his last play was a success, and it's captured the imagination of a beautiful young woman of means, named Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow, in a role that won her a Best Actress goldenboy). Viola longs to act in a play, but the law of the land says that women are forbidden onstage. So when Will begins holding auditions, Viola dresses up as a boy named Thomas Kent, and tries out for the part of Romeo. Will is certain that Thomas is perfect for the part, but Voila gets cold feet and flees the audition. Will follows her home, and eventually sees Viola undisguised. He promptly falls in love with her, unaware that Viola and Thomas are one and the same. He eventually figures it all out of course, but allows the ruse to continue so Viola can have the part. Viola is equally in love with Will, but unfortunately, she's been promised by her father to marry a nobleman, Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). Still, the heart is blind, and as their passionate relationship unfolds, Will's play suddenly begins changing from a comedy, into a story of undying and forbidden love. And the title, of course, becomes Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare in Love boasts an extremely clever screenplay, and a host of first-rate performances. The story unfolds very slyly, as moment after moment in the play develops out of Will and Viola's emotions and situations. Both of the lead actors are wonderful, although while Paltrow won critical acclaim, Joseph Fiennes was often overlooked, and undeservedly so. Other standouts here include Geoffrey Rush, as Will's theater-owning friend, and Judi Dench, as Queen Elizabeth. Ben Affleck and Rupert Everett also perform well in smaller, but vital, roles. Directed by John Madden, Shakespeare in Love is a wonderful film, and is, I think, deserving of its Oscar win (even though I was torn between Life is Beautiful and Saving Private Ryan as my Best Picture pick).

The quality of this DVD is generally very good, starting with the video, which is, as I mentioned, in anamorphic widescreen. This is an excellent visual experience, marred only by the fact that it's not as crisp and clear as it should have been. There is a slight "ringing" or "edginess" noticeable throughout, which bespeaks the use of artificial edge enhancement (when will studios learn that you DON'T NEED this when mastering video for DVD?). Take a look at some of the title graphics, or the fine detail (the thatched roofs on the various buildings for example), and you'll see the effect I'm talking about. That aside, the print used for this transfer was superb, and the compression is excellent. You'll see wonderful range of contrast, with solid blacks. But the best thing here is the color! The film has a generally muted color-scheme to it, but what colors are present are rich and lustrous. Take a look, for example, at the Queen's costume in chapter 17 (1:02:00 to be specific) - just gorgeous color. Flesh tones are also nicely rendered.

The sound isn't quite as good as the picture, but it's solid, and perfectly adequate. As with most Miramax films, Shakespeare in Love is largely driven by dialogue, so don't expect much in the way of surround sound. The rear channels are mostly used to create atmosphere, but create it they do, even if subtly so. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with the music presented nicely in the mix. And the low frequency is quite active - there's good bass, while not being overwhelming in any way. Extras include a theatrical trailer, trivia on Shakespeare, and biographical information on the historically-based characters in the film. Finally, the menu screens are also in anamorphic widescreen - a nice (and too often overlooked) touch.

Shakespeare in Love is a wonderful film, and this DVD captures the experience quite nicely. To be fair, the disc is pretty bare-bones, but a Collector's Edition version is currently in the works at Miramax (it was delayed due to legal issues over some of the special edition materials). Some may wish to wait for that version, but those who can't should be plenty happy this disc. And once again, the fact that this film is presented in anamorphic widescreen can't be down-played. Note to Miramax and the Mouse - keep more discs like this one coming!

Bill Hunt
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