I’m not the only person to have overlooked Stage Beauty. It was awarded Overlooked Film of the Year (2004) by the Phoenix Film Critics Society. I feel fortunate to have found this gem in the Netflix catalog.
If you liked Shakespeare in Love, there is no reason why you won’t like this film. And, if you’re a fan of historical fiction and Shakespeare, then you’re sure to like this Richard Eyre film.
Billy Crudup (Ned Kynaston) is wonderful as the male/female lead. I can’t remember him in any other role; now, I’ll look for him in other films. By the way, Edward Kynaston was well known for his portrayal of a variety of leading ladies, including Ben Jonson’s Epicoene (In this movie, Kynaston portrays Othello’s Desdemona).
If you know your theater history, you know that men played female roles until King Charles II reversed a law set by a predecessor. In the 1660s, Charles gave women the right to take the stage and banned men from taking on female roles.
Claire Danes (Maria) has the role of dresser to Ned Kynaston and a secret role as Desdemona at an “underground” theater. She also has a bit of a crush on Kynaston; of course, he is completely oblivious. Claire is equally wonderful in her role. I’ve liked her ever since she performed in Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio.
I really don’t know how to classify this film because it has comedy and drama. Some may consider it a romantic comedy, but it’s so much more than that. The end of the film, which I won’t reveal here, is something you long for once you’re at the half-way mark. It’s the icing on the cake!
This movie is role reversal “cubed.” You’ll want to catch the superior performances of Crudup and Danes. You’ll also enjoy watching the performances of Rupert Evert (King Charles II) and Zoe Tapper (Nell Gwynn – Charles’ mistress).
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I always appreciate a good love story. If you do too, then you’ll want to read the film review for Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. It’s not the sort of love story you’d expect!