Oscar History

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Valentine's - Shakespeare in Love

The Film Experience is celebrating Valentine's Day! Here's Dancin' Dan on an Oscar-winning romance.

Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? Not its more common sister, lust at first sight, but real, true, struck-by-cupid's-arrow L-O-V-E at first sight?

It is a rush. A breathless rush when everything around you seems to slow down and disappear until the only thing you can see, or even care about, is this other person. It will cloud your judgment, and perhaps impair your ability to speak, but all your senses become laser-focused on the object of your affections, this perfect being for whom you have fallen head over heels. More...

And the next day, when you think you've regained your composure, everything becomes heightened. You see things differently, hear things differently... you feel things differently. 

One of the many things that make John Madden's Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love such a joy to watch again and again is how purely it captures that rush of falling in love. It's all over the eyes of Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare, in every longing, hungry glance at the Lady Viola de Lesseps. And it's in the voice of the luminous Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, taking Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard's lyrical words and making them immortal. None of this is more evident than in the scene where the two lovers first consummate their relationship, which is maybe a day after they met for the first time. They both know in their bones that they love each other, but Will cannot continue until he knows that they are not mistaken in their affections.

Are you the author of the plays of William Shakespeare?

I am.

Then kiss me again for I am not mistook.


In a film full of perfect readings of perfect lines, this is the one that always comes to mind first when I think of Shakespeare in Love. The breathlessness of her voice, the need in her eyes, the light that emanates from her lovely face.... that is what it love feels and looks like.

And then, to complete the image, they undress each other and get down to where she has bound her breasts to disguise herself as a man in order to act in Shakespeare's new play (Viola: "I do not know how to undress a man" Will: "It is strange to me, too."). And so he undoes the binding.

Pure joy. She is becoming free of the bonds of family and society and experiencing a life she has only seen on stage or read in poems and books; fantasy made thrillingly real.

And in the morning, when her trusty nurse knocks on the door and wakes her up by telling her it is a new day?

It is a new world.

Yes. Yes it is. A most beautiful one.

P.S. Every lady deserves a maid as loving and devoted as Imelda Staunton in this film, don't you think?

What, you've never heard the sounds of great sex before, chambermaid? MOVE. ALONG.

and Happy Valentine’s Day !

Our Valentine's Series
A Room With a View (1986)
Before Sunset (2004)
The Painted Veil (2006)
Love Songs (2007)
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Beyond the Lights (2014)

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Reader Comments (43)

For all it's worth, Gwyneth was perfect in this role and deserved that Oscar.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver


(Just kidding! SiL is very fine movie and I'm glad it got BP)

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

One of my favorite films and one of my favorite Best Picture winners.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Judi rocks it and was a worthy winner.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Fully deserved its Oscar. It was the best of the nominated films, and its win was a triumph of wit and beauty over testosterone and bullets.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbcarter3

Probably it'd be a much better appreciated movie without the Best Picture oscar. I personally think it deserved it and everything about it is brilliant, GOOP included

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

I'm ok w its BP win, but Best Actress, no matter how luminous and sweet and BLOND Gwhiney is, that Oscar belonged to Cate!!! After the Queen, Montenegro in Central Station deserves it more.....

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I've seen it more times than I ever expected, and it's great and fresh each time. After about the third viewing, I made my peace with Gwenyth's win. And I love Geofffrey Rush every time.

In a way it's more fun to watch now, because now I know all the actors playing the minor characters from work they've done since.

The wonderful score by Stephen Warbeck (Oscar winner) also lifts it to another level. If you think of the dreamy end, it is so much more satisfying because of the music.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Really the only ones who truly object to this film's best picture win is the macho male film critics who just couldn't deal with the period romance winning over the male centric Spielberg war epic. I've seen SIL so many times and each viewing makes me fall in love even more. Paltrow is perfect in the role and deserved her Oscar win. It's just a perfect film that I can watch over and over again.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

'Shakespeare In Love' deserved that Oscar a million times over 'Saving Private Ryan'. I would say that on the night, both films got the awards they deserved.

'Shakespeare' is one of the best written films I've ever seen. The balancing of characters, the establishment of the stakes, the structure, the Shakespearian in-jokes, and that AMAZING ending which ties the whole thing together (and which feels so natural to the film you never would have thought it was a hasty re-shoot suggested by Harvey Weinstein) amaze me more and more the older I get and the more I watch it.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

Eoin Daly & The Jack: Really appreciate your comments. The "SiL unfairly beat SPR for Best Picture" is a aged sacred cow on the internets, particularly for Bro-ish film fans - but one that I think is really unfair. SPR is technically well-made but the wraparound scenes are embarrassingly mawkish ("Earn it"), and the central conceit of the film, that of risking seven (I think it's seven?) lives in order to save the one has all these moral complexities and shadings that the movie never even begins to tackle. It's ultimately a rather lightweight film in heavyweight wrappers.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I'm not much into romantic movies - or so I thought until I starting reading these posts. Shakespeare in Love! Another one of my favs :) And I thought Gwyneth deserved her Oscar.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne


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One of my favorite films and one of my favorite Best Picture winners.
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