Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
United Kingdom/USA/Germany, 2004. Lions Gate Films, Qwerty Films, Tribeca Productions, N1 European Film Produktions GmbH & Co. KG, BBC Films. Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on his play Compleat Female Stage Beauty. Cinematography by Andrew Dunn. Produced by Robert De Niro, Hardy Justice, Jane Rosenthal. Music by George Fenton. Production Design by Jim Clay. Costume Design by Tim Hatley. Film Editing by Tariq Anwar. National Board of Review Awards 2004. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2004. Toronto International Film Festival 2004.
In the 17th-century London of King Charles II, women are still forbidden to perform in public theatres, leaving specially-trained men to play the female parts in plays. The current toast of the city is the beautiful Edward Kynaston (Billy Crudup), declared the most ravishing woman of London by his admirers, while his dresser (Claire Danes) impossibly dreams of stardom on the stage as an actress. Her dream is made reality when the king (Rupert Everett) abolishes the law forbidding women’s participation on the stage, allowing her the opportunity to pursue a career on her own. She achieves great fame while her former employer descends into obscurity and confusion, for what is a man to do when a career built on artifice is suddenly thrust into a world demanding reality? Where is he to find the purpose of his being when his whole life has been spent promoting an invented personality? Having no career and even losing his lover (Ben Chaplin), Crudup has to go on a journey of self-discovery that transcends gender and goes to the heart of artistic expression as self-realization. Meanwhile, Danes has trouble finding her footing in this brave new world where women have suddenly found an opportunity to achieve some personal power. Crudup makes a masterpiece of his struggle towards personal discovery, while Danes handles both her character’s personal crises as well as the play-within-a-play work with exciting conviction. The period is brought to the screen with vivid grunginess, and the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher (based on his own play Compleat Female Stage Beauty) is excellent.