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Old 24th Jan 2005, 1:46   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Stage Beauty

I was keen to see this in Sept/Oct when it was released in cinemas and quite honestly shocked when it appeared on TV over Christmas, suggestive of a down-and-out failure on the big screen and barely promoted even on BBC2. We recorded it and got round to watching it last night (Sun.)

Comparisons can inevitably be drawn between this theatrical tale of cross-dressing and Shakespeare in Love, especially as there is a wittiness exploited in both which led some reviews of Stage Beauty to claim that between the humour and the drama and the historical bit, the film it ‘didn’t really know what it was’, much in the same way that the key character in the film, Ned Kynaston, the last of the male-female actors in the reign of Charles II, finds himself lost, no longer knowing who or what he is. His identity as a swooning and rather prissy actor is suddenly redundant once Charles pronounces a new edict outlawing female impersonation on stage, and he has to explore what it is to be an actor and a male and female actor, as well as exploring what this means for his sexual identity.

In another thread Palimp-citizens have explored the attractiveness (or not) of pretty-boy actors like Billy Crudup but I was impressed by how much we were shown the ugly-sharp cheekbones and pantomime-dame maquillage and an older and more serious face than you imagine on a ‘pin-up’ actor – at times you saw the angled tones of a Robert Helpmann face or a youthful Laurence Olivier. The exploration of the nature of acting and identity was held tightly by the dialogue throughout and at times was very moving – in particular, Kynaston attempting to play ‘straight’ Othello and failing to modify his ‘feminine’ hand gestures and falsetto vocal swoops to a court in which Charles III and Nell Gwyn are themselves playing at swapping roles.

It was played far less for farce and with greater intelligence and thought than Shakespeare in Love and Claire Danes as Maria, Kynaston’s dresser-turned-actress, was invisible in her role and lacking the artificiality of Gwyneth Paltrow. All the other leads (some of them Shakespeare in Love veterans) were superb – Rupert Everett as Charles, Tom Wilkinson as the theatre company manager, Hugh Bonneville as Pepys. Only the actress playing Nell Gwyn struck an exaggeratedly false Cockney note (she came from Hereford, not the East End).

Not to start a trend but I’d really like to give this 4 ½ stars. (My two oldest kids enjoyed it very very much but it is quite adult in places – far more so than SiL.)
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Old 31st Jan 2005, 0:16   #2
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I watched this last night Col.

Just to say I agree with everything you wrote. I really enjoyed this one. I was absolutely gripped, hardly breathing in their final Othello scene. Really and truly I thought.....has he actually......?

I did wonder what the gay community might make of it. Kynaston does rather get turned away from homosexuality by just trying to act a bit harder and get the love of a good woman. That aside I thought it was a really fantastic watch.
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Old 31st Jan 2005, 8:19   #3
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Exactly - I shared the same doubt about the death-scene, despite myself saying it was just a play. Maybe Ned had gone to the extreme in trying to assert the verisimilitude of [supposed] masculinity...a relief that he hadn't.

My take on the sexuality, I think, was that of a sliding scale with Ned probably bisexual anyway. It was good that the film ended so ambiguously:
Quote:
Maria [I might have forgotten the name :wink: ] What are you now?; Ned - I don't know.
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