Stage Beauty

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner6/09/2004

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Enjoyably bawdy, well-written period romp with terrific central performances from Crudup and Danes – this is liable to clean up come BAFTA time.

On the surface, Stage Beauty has a lot in common with Shakespeare In Love, as both films feature cross-dressing and the various goings-on between theatre types. The two films also feature real people, although, where Shakespeare In Love fictionalised its titular hero for romcom purposes, Stage Beauty is at least partly based on a true story; the rest is fleshed out by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who adapted his play Compleat Female Stage Beauty for the screen.

Bi-Sexual Restoration Actor Loses Career

Directed by acclaimed theatre director Richard Eyre (Iris), Stage Beauty stars Billy Crudup as bi-sexual Restoration actor Ned Kynaston. Since women are banned from appearing onstage, Kynaston is free to play all the great female parts and his Desdemona is the talk of the town in swinging 1660s London.

However, his career grinds to a shuddering halt when Charles II (Rupert Everett) gives in to the demands of his persuasive, wannabe-actress mistress, Nell Gwyn (Zoe Tapper), decreeing that women should be allowed on stage and forbidding men from appearing on stage in drag. To make matters worse, Ned’s chief rival is his own dresser, Marie (Claire Danes)…

Crudup is terrific as Kynaston, delivering a complex, physical performance that is neither wholly masculine nor wholly feminine but something fluid in-between. Kynaston’s really is the mother of all identity crises – stripped of his professional identity as a “woman” (described by Hugh Bonneville’s Samuel Pepys as “the prettiest woman in the whole house”), Kynaston literally doesn’t know who he is anymore and the film plays on the suggestion that the experience might have tipped him over into madness.

Danes Best Since Romeo & Juliette

Crudup is matched by Claire Danes, in what is easily her best performance since Romeo and Juliet; the role requires her to play Marie as both a bad stage actress and a great stage actress and the transition is mesmerising. In addition, she has genuine chemistry with Crudup and their gender-switching sex scene is both erotically-charged and a highlight of the film. (The film also carries its own whiff of scandal, since Crudup left his pregnant wife for Danes during filming).

The supporting cast are also extremely good, particularly Rupert Everett (“Thrills and spills!”), who seems to be enjoying himself a little too much as Charles II. Also notable are Tom Wilkinson as the put-upon theatre owner, Richard Griffiths as a lecherous patron and Ben Chaplin as Kynaston’s wealthy patron and lover.

In short, Stage Beauty is a lot of fun, with superb performances and a script that explores ideas of gender, politics, sexuality and even the nature of acting itself. It also builds to a literally heart-stopping climax that is worth the price of admission alone. Highly recommended.

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Stage Beauty
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Content updated: 18/10/2019 06:31

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