Alike, but Beauty-ful

Oct. 19, 2004, midnight | By Emily May | 19 years, 7 months ago

Stage Beauty isn't Shakespeare in Love… oh wait, it is. Skinny, blond, stage-struck female lead set against acting-obsessed, dark-haired male lead, and of course the demurely humorous English monarch... But it's not the same, really.

It's better.

Magnificent scenery, superb cinematography and skillful acting spin this familiar script into a film filled with passion, humor, suspense and romance, to name a few. And despite its initial familiarity, there are enough differences from Shakespeare in Love's quaint love story to make Stage Beauty worthwhile.

It's 1660s London, and women are banned from the stage. Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is a talented, popular actor who specializes in Shakespeare's female roles, while his dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), watches him and longs desperately to perform onstage. So when Charles II (Rupert Everett) decrees that women should perform all female roles, at the behest of his "pretty, witty" mistress, Nell Gwyn (Zoe Tapper), Maria jumps at the chance. Kynaston, banned from his forte, plummets from venerated actor to forsaken wreck, debased into performing in drag for sleazy tavern crowds. Maria, a.k.a. Margaret Hughes, becomes the biggest female actress in the theatre business.

Director Richard Eyre does a splendid job with this period piece, based loosely on true historical figures. The film explores gender roles, sexual preferences (Kynaston is bisexual) and the psychological effects of defamation, and raises some interesting questions that set it apart from mainstream movies.

Crudup excels in his role as the confused Kynaston, who is both effeminate and manly, both sweet and cruel, both accepting and intolerant, and a bundle of other contradictions. Crudup, as Kynaston, is able to perform both Desdemona and Othello, from Shakespeare's Othello, a play that is woven in throughout the course of the film. Danes is less convincing in her portrayal of Maria, Kynaston's dresser-turned-star, but not by much. By the climax of the film, Danes is able to filter in some fire to her character, and livens up the screen from then on in, contrasting well with Crudup's passive/aggressive character.

Everett is a dryly-humorous Charles II, with his loyal pack of King Charles spaniels and his overly perky mistress. Tapper also shines, with an effervescent, sometimes over-the-top personality. Together, Tapper and Danes make a strong female core for the cast, and they contrast well with the self-controlled Everett and the mixed-up Crudup.

As for the visual aspect of the film, Stage Beauty recreates 1660s London superbly, with realistic street scenes, costuming, and set design. Carriages, prostitutes, and street urchins abound in the background, and lighting and camera shots highlight the setting's realism.

Though several scenes in the middle of the film seem somewhat irrelevant and unnecessary, a gripping climax and a satisfying conclusion wrap up a well-made production. Despite its resemblance to other films, Stage Beauty's talented cast is able to create a pleasingly new gem.

Stage Beauty (105 minutes) is rated R for sexual content and language. It is playing at the CO Dupont 5 theater and Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema.

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Emily May. Emily May is always smiling. She's probably even smiling right now. She enjoys listening to all kinds of music, playing Ultimate Frisbee, singing out of car windows, playing guitar, rambling on about nothing, doing things that make the world a better place, watching 24, playing … More »

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