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NewCityNet Shakespeare in Love

By Ray Pride

DECEMBER 28, 1998:  Brilliant piffle: Tom Stoppard & Co. audaciously imagine the life of young Will Shakespeare, toiling over the blank pages of "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," as sweet romantic farce. Under the mostly assured hand of director John Madden ("Mrs. Brown"), it's perfect holiday entertainment, smart enough to know that intelligence doesn't have to poke you in the nose - it can also dazzle with seeming effortlessness, darting about and tickling you with deft pluck. Joseph Fiennes is Shakespeare, saucer-eyed and ears alert to all about him; he spends time he could be writing dodging the entreaties of his producer, Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush, a dancing bear of misplaced passions and hilarious umbrage). When stage-struck Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow, her ethereal qualities used to full and proper effect) auditions for the play-in-the-making as a boy, the intricate levels of narrative play kicks into motion. Writers Marc Norman and Stoppard pull off a magical feat: between the riffing on Shakespeare's confounding muse, of the comic potential of gender-bending, of the love of theatrical magic and writerly lore, from that era to our own, they confect a grandly sophisticated entertainment. Judi Dench, as Queen Elizabeth, stops the show in a tiny, but forceful (and very funny) set of scenes.

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