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October 2004

By Wilson Morales

Stage Beauty

Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Richard Eyre
Producers: Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, & Hardy Justice
Screenwriter: Jeffrey Hatcher, based on his play "Complete Female Stage Beauty"
Cinematographer: Andrew Dunn
Composer: George Fenton
Cast: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Zoe Tapper, Ben Chaplin, & Hugh Bonneville




When "Shakespeare in Love" came out over five years, it brought out a clever script as well as winning Best Picture of the year. It managed to reintroduce Shakespeare to a new audience and in some ways made you smart. For all that you had learned in high school and in college and forgotten so quickly, this film made you think about what you had read and where. Part of that film plot involved a female playing a role on stage at a time when it was forbidden by law. Now, if you take that part of the story and invent a new film surrounding its and its ramifications for men, you come up with an ingenious story called "Stage Beauty". Billy Crudup, who has been so underrated an actor, shows just how good he is in playing the role of a female and male. It's his performance that takes the film from being dull and stage-like to exhilarating and entertaining.

Set in 1600s during the English Reformation, every play is acted and performed by men, the most famous being Ned Kynaston (Crudup). He is the biggest "female" draw in town. His most recent performance as Desdemona in "Othello" has folks at his feet. His biggest fan is his dresser Maria (Danes), who not only admires his work but secretly loves him. During her off-work hours, Maria "borrows" Ned's costumes and performs his role in a tavern frequented by the lower class of society. When words reaches Ned about how good his role is performed by someone else, let alone a female, he doesn't worry since it's considered a criminal offense for a female to do such a thing. When King Charles II (Everett) has an event at the place and has invited Mrs. Hughes, a.k.a Maria, to attend, Ned persuades his lover George Villiars, the Duke of Buckingham, to take him as his guest. When Ned sees who Mrs. Hughes is and recognizes her, not but contempt is on his mind. The minute King Charles II praises her work; Ned as well as the other men are quick to point out how her work is against the law. With his ruling, Maria is allowed to continue her work as well as do a performance for the King himself.

As she tries out for a role in Ned's play, Othello, Ned amuses himself as he watches her audition. When the owner of the theater and fellow actor, Thomas Betterton, wants to offer Maria the role, Ned plays his hand and makes a statement that would repercussions later on. He vows to never perform on stage if he has to work with a female on stage. With the King's mistress watching from the back of the theater, she quickly dashes off to inform the King of Ned's rudeness. With some romantic displays from his mistress, the King issues a proclamation that no man should ever play a role that is meant for a female. Hence, Ned is now out of a job and the tides have turned. Having learned to play female parts throughout his life because the roles offer more than male parts, Ned is unwilling to make to change and "act" like a man. Depression is hard on him as he seeks comfort from the lowly. With her acting unpolished, and popularity growing, Maria needs help as the King wants to see her perform Othello. With Ned no longer an actor to watch, Maria needs to find him and convince him to return to the stage so that both can excel.

Not only is the acting first rate from all involved, but the direction is splendid. The writing by Jeffrey Hatcher is well written, although it's historically correct. One would have to go to the library and check out the dates and facts when women were to work on a British stage, but you have to give credit for coming up with a clever twist. The romantic chemistry between Crudup and Danes is played with a tease. Crudup is amazing in portraying a man who is confused with his gender. His physical appearance also adds to the character's determination in playing a woman's role. Danes hasn't been this good in a long time. Initially, her facial expressions are what capture your attention, but as the film progress, it's her action that stands out. Everett, who coincidentally had a smaller role in "Shakespeare in Love", is somewhat over-the-top as the King. "Stage Beauty" is an entertaining film to watch with terrific performance from Crudup and Danes.