I watched the Shakespeare in Love bonus featurette so you don’t have to

I love Shakespeare in Love. It’s one of my go-to cheer-up movies and I’ve seen it on stage twice (and not to brag but I’ve hung out with the dog who played Crab in the second production and given him belly rubs, so, you know, I’m basically famous by association).

Unfortunately you have to pay money to watch it these days, so I thought I’d see if the best parts were on youtube. They probably are, but I got completely sidetracked by the discovery that Miramax has put the entirety of their 45-minute educational DVD bonus featurette up as well. And I watched the whole thing, because I feel like that’s where we’re all at these days.

First thoughts:

  1. They chose the GOOFIEST picture of William Shakespeare they possibly could have to badly greenscreen the actors onto
  2. Gwyneth Paltrow sounds like she’s on valium but this is a highbrow blog so we don’t make obvious jokes like that
  3. Ben Affleck (hereafter Batfleck) is wearing a #cool leather jacket and looks like he’d rather be anywhere else
  4. Geoffrey Rush has a single strand of hair out of place and I don’t know if it’s a choice but it’s very distracting
  5. Joseph Fiennes is talking much quieter than everyone else and keeps looking at the camera in a way that makes me kind of uncomfortable
  6. They keep slowly zooming in and out on Judi Dench while she talks but not on anyone else??
  7. Tom Stoppard does not look like I thought he would
  8. Batfleck looks like he’s holding in laughter every time he talks, which is very fair because this script is awful
  9. “Unlock the power of the poetry” sounds like the tagline for something Gwyneth Paltrow would try to sell me in 2020
  10. They made Pepper Potts and Voldemort’s brother recite the balcony scene from R&J but did not coach them at all and instead just changed the words behind them to cover for when they messed up

In all seriousness though, I do have some quarrels with the “facts” presented in this featurette. There’s nothing like, egregiously wrong, but if you’re making an educational special you could at least do your research. (Obviously the movie itself is a factual mess, but we’re not here to talk about that.)

We start off pretty badly with Gwyneth Paltrow saying “believe it or not, every fact we know about the life of Shakespeare can fit on a tiny piece of paper” before presenting the only five facts we know about Shakespeare. Fact number four isn’t even correct.

According to Leather Jacket Batfleck, Shakespeare’s name first appears in print in 1592, in an attack by Robert Greene. What Greene actually says is that there is “an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers” who considers himself to be “the only shake-scene in a country”. The whole point of Greene’s attack is that he doesn’t mention Shakespeare by name. The first time the word “Shakespeare” appears in print is a year later, in the dedication of Venus and Adonis.

We sort of veer into dangerous territory with Joseph Fiennes saying “of course, we know more about Shakespeare than any biography could tell us, because we have the wonderful plays and poems” (superimposed over a very blurry image of some Roman citizens discussing Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar for some reason) but fortunately they never bring it up again.

I don’t have a problem with showing a picture of the Globe when talking about Elizabethan outdoor theatres even though the movie is set in 1593 and the Globe was constructed in 1599, but I think it’s funny that they show Hollar’s “long view” of London without correcting the fact that Hollar swapped the labels for the Globe and the Bear Garden so they’re… not even showing the Globe. Here’s what they should have shown:

I know that they have to paint Tilney as the villain for the sake of the film, but it’s kind of disingenuous to talk about city officials closing the theatres and then cut to Tilney doing it in the movie – the job of the Master of the Revels (when it came to the theatre) was just to choose what entertainments would be performed before the court during the Christmas season and make sure new plays didn’t contain any problematic material, and even if they did he would just send them back with corrections.

And again, I get that they have to play up the arranged marriage thing for plot reasons, but arranged marriages were not the norm in Shakespeare’s time – they really only happened among the nobility, and almost always only with the consent of both parties.

But overall, my biggest problem with this whole thing is that Joseph Fiennes is the only person in it who looks like he cares even a little bit about what he’s saying, so the video is just really boring. If my English teacher had made me watch this I would have zoned out for 45 minutes.

Highlights of this experience for me:

  1. The camera slowly zooming in on Judi Dench’s face as she says “by the way I’d like everyone to know those teeth in the film weren’t mine”
  2. Gwyneth Paltrow saying that women couldn’t vote in the 1590s with a completely straight face
  3. Joseph Fiennes ~acting~ while the text of R&J sort of meanders across the screen behind him
  4. Gwyneth Paltrow stumbling through the balcony scene and then the film cutting to Batfleck saying “I think what Gwyneth’s trying to say here is…”
  5. The choice to have the words the actors are saying scroll vertically across the screen like karaoke lyrics and simultaneously horizontally in a massive calligraphic font
  6. They end with just some scenes from the movie, and I love the movie, so I guess it ended pretty okay

And a gallery of bad background choices made in this video (featuring Geoffrey Rush’s hair no one bothered to fix):

(It’s really impressive how they managed to find backgrounds that so closely matched the actors’ skin tones.)

So, should you watch this? Absolutely not; the only interesting part of it was every time that terrible portrait of Shakespeare popped up. Watch the movie instead.

(You’re welcome.)

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