Shakespeare in Love (Blu-ray)

February 12, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The debate will always rage on as to which film was actually more deserving of the 1999 Best Picture winner: Shakespeare in Love or Saving Private Ryan. The former ended up taking home the trophy of “Best Picture of the Year” though it was highly-speculated that the Weinsteins somewhat “bought” the campaign. Spielberg ended up winning a well-deserved Oscar for his film. It’s now been thirteen years since that Oscar night and I firmly believe that Saving Private Ryan is the better movie. It’s not the more original story, but it’s better-acted, directed and has stood the test of time more so than its Award-winning counterpart. The film also placed in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies of all-time when they re-did the list in 2007.Shakespeare in Love didn’t. Still, with its debut on Blu-ray, I do remember how much I loved watching Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck and Joseph Fiennes do this little movie. Odds are that anyone reading this review has their own opinion of what won and what should have won.

As any writer knows, sometimes it’s hard to come up with something uniquely original. And, evidently, this even happened to William Shakespeare who most consider to be the best writer of all-time. Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is currently battling a bad case of writer’s block and finds an unlikely muse in the form of Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) who’s actually masquerading as a man to get in Shakespeare’s latest play. Why is she masquerading as a man, you ask? At the time only men were put in plays and the roles of women were played by adolescents whose voices had not yet changed. A rather strange part of history, but a fact nonetheless. As Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow) works her way through the play, there’s an unusual bond that forms between her and Shakespeare. A few odd moments aside, the film is a love story albeit with an ensemble cast that makes the movie work on many a level.

Shakespeare in Love ended up coming home with seven Oscars in 1999 and the most disputed one was for Best Picture. Paltrow won Best Actress for her portrayal of Viola de Lesseps and she was joined by Judi Dench who won for Best Supporting Actress despite her part only accumulating to 8 minutes of screen time. The rest of the cast is veritable who’s who of English actors with the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush and we get the American cohort with Ben Affleck (Affleck and Paltrow were an item at the time). The Academy sometimes gets it right and sometimes they don’t. While Shakespeare in Love most likely won’t go down in history as the next Casablanca it’s certainly better than some of the other choices out there. I hadn’t seen the movie in years prior to this Blu-ray release and found myself liking it nearly as much as I did the first time. Not many films can say that.

Video: How does it look?

I believe that it’s been quite some time since this film has graced the format. I still have my old DVD copy of the film and broke it out for a bit of A/B comparison for this review. Immediately the 2.35:1 AVC HD image showed a lot more life with color that seemed to be a bit more vivid. It’s as if someone turned up the color factor a bit. Detail, as expected, has also been improved but not to the point of over-compensation. This is back in the day when Gwyneth didn’t have wrinkles in her forehead, remember. The entire image seems to be warm and rich and it showcases the Academy Award winning costume design that it so rightly deserved. On the whole, it’s a major step up from DVD to Blu-ray and any fan will want this as part of their HD collection.

Audio: How does it sound?

You wouldn’t think that this film would have such a robust soundtrack. You would be mistaken. The leap to Blu-ray has also given this Best Picture winner a new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that sounds surprisingly…good! There are a few scenes that really showcase the ambiance of the track with the surrounds taking charge and adding some support in the rear channels. Dialogue is crisp and clear and we can hear Ben Affleck do his best English accent to boot (note: it’s not that great). There’s a dance scene at Viola’s place that sounds particularly charming and I found the track as a whole to be a delightful surprise (much like I did when I first saw the movie).

Supplements: What are the extras?

As is the case with most, if not all, Miramax films that are now handled by Lionsgate the supplements are identical to the previous standard DVD edition. I’d have liked to see some new retrospective with at least a few of the actors, but alas…nothing. That said we do have a pair of audio commentaries and the first with director John Madden and the second with selected members of the cast and crew. Both are a good listen though the information is a bit dated. There’s the obligatory “Making of…” featurette as is a feature showcasing the Academy Award winning Costume Design. A few deleted scenes are shown as are about a dozen trailers and TV spots that were the basis of the Oscar campaign (never let it be said that advertising doesn’t work).

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