Saturday, June 9, 2012
It's a period history set piece in many ways, but uniquely so, partly because of their brave performances. Danes [full disclosure I read poetry with her at a charity event a few years ago and found her jut as you might expect, beautiful, curious and bright with no "movie star" persona at all, if anything more humble than most folks, let alone actors] plays the first woman to act on stage in England, replacing Billy Crudup's character, Ned Kynaston, as the reigning interpreter of Shakespeare's Desdemona.
The history is mostly made up but based in some reality. Kynaston was a real person known for his portrayals of women and especially for his Desdemona. We know about him from Samuel Pepys diary (Hugh Boennville brings Pepys to life perfectly I thought) which the play this screenplay was based on was based on (is there an echo in here): both by Jefferey Hatcher. And it is true that Charles II (played with his usual hilarious aplomb by Rupert Everett, well worth the price of admission) reversed the previous Puritan law against females playing females on stage and banned men playing them (thus ending Kynaston's career, though the movie posits an eventually righteous triumph despite the ban).
As in most period movies, there's a lot of behavior and speech that is more contemporary than period, as well as emotional resolutions that are highly suspect historically. But the deeper truth of human failings and aspirations resonates in the writing, the directing (Richard Eyre) and especially the acting. STAGE BEAUTY is worth watching just for that alone. I highly recommend checking it out and staying with it to the end, a way too modern ending for that period but totally satisfying in an open ended, ultimately unresolved way that seems more true to life than any history lesson.