After watching the highly-acclaimed but disappointing "Rushmore" I was afraid to touch another comedy 'applauded by critics', thank god I did take a look. "Shakespeare in Love" is easily the best romantic comedy, and one of the best films of 1998. Sure its got a sharp script, its solidly directed, and constant references to one of the greatest love stories ever helps, but its the performances which push this to a very high level.
Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow are just sensational, both deliver solid solo outings and the chemistry between them in their scenes together is almost tangible. Fiennes is one of those guys whose large eyes lock onto you like an Iraqi cruise missile - you know exactly what their intentions are and they have a hell of an impact. Gwyneth (whose English accent is almost flawless) plays a very feminine, yet strong woman - a perfect heroinne, and yes she does get her gear off.
Sadly the supporting performances aren't as consistent. I've always really enjoyed Ben Affleck's work, but he's stuck in a somewhat underwritten role here. The 'hollywood hunk' looks seem a little out of place in medieval England, though that could be a facet of his character (who is supposed to be a 'pretty boy' actor). Geoffrey Rush though is the most disappointing, once again not his fault but rather a poorly written role which is very predictable and not particularly funny. His role in "Elizabeth" was far more complex, subtle and interesting and should have gotten the Oscar nod rather than his role in this.
On the other side, Judi Dench proves once again what a marvellous actress she is in her two all-too-brief scenes in the movie as Queen Elizabeth the First. Utilising the style of humour which makes her appearances as 'M' in the Bond films such an enjoyable experience, she steals each shot she's in. Tom Wilkinson as the debt collector turned obsessed 'apothecary' actor-wannabe is great fun, Rupert Everett's cameo is also too brief, his skill at underplaying the role he's been given really sticks with you afterwards.
The disappointing trailer and the only so-so commercials didn't fill me with enthusiasm for this flick (neither did the fact its a period piece which I usually hate), while the comedy quotient could've been a bit higher ("Something About Mary" still has that edge which makes it the best comedy of '98), but I'm very glad I checked it out - you should too.