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Stage Beauty
Stage Beauty
Actors: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Derek Hutchinson, Mark Letheren
Director: Richard Eyre
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
R     2005     1hr 46min

Since women are forbidden to act in 17th century england mr ned kynaston became the most popular leading lady of his time - until the rules changed and the actress had to finally make a man of himself. Studio: Lions Gate ...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Rupert Everett, Derek Hutchinson, Mark Letheren
Director: Richard Eyre
Creators: Amir Jacob Malin, Hardy Justice, James D. Stern, Jane Rosenthal, Jill Tandy, Malcolm Ritchie, Jeffrey Hatcher
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Lions Gate
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/08/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 46min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 4
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Member Movie Reviews

Dorothy M. from FEDERAL WAY, WA
Reviewed on 7/15/2010...
This is a movie with many surprises. Rupert Everett wonderfully outdoes himself as the king, and every other actor excels. There is a bit of history thrown in too which is enjoyable.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Michele D. (Shelly) from GREENUP, IL
Reviewed on 9/4/2009...
I enjoyed the acting bits, but the sexual stuff was a bit much.

Movie Reviews

A Magnificent 17th Century Period Piece - and MUCH more!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Perhaps thought patterns are changing and prejudices against gay characters are indeed abating. At least hearing the audience delight after viewing STAGE BEAUTY makes a case for more mainstream male actors to shed the fear of taking on roles that feature gender and sexuality variations: Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Rodrigo Santoro, Gael Garcia Bernal, et al have all performed sensitively as gay men despite their macho image - the once small list is now respectably large. And now add Billy Crudup and Ben Chaplin to that ever-growing list. Bravo to that change.

STAGE BEAUTY (in the screenplay version of his own play 'The Compleat Female Stage Beauty' by Jeffrey Hatcher) is set in the mid 17th century with all the frills and foibles of British dandies and ladies visually intact. This is the time when female roles were assumed by male actors (the theater was simply no place for ladies to participate) and we are introduced to Mr. Kynaston (in a brilliant, multifaceted performance by Billy Crudup!) as he portrays Desdemona in Shakespeare's 'Othello'. He is attended by a dresser Maria Hughes (Claire Danes, another superlative acting achievement) who longs to act and steals away after performances in the theater run by actor Betterton (Tom Wilkinson) to a tavern where she assumes the memorized roles Kynaston performs on the royally approved stage.

Kynaston has been raised to portray women on stage (and indeed in life) and responds to men as a woman (his lover is the Duke of Buckingham - Ben Chaplin). King Charles II (a thorough-going hilarious fling for the gifted Rupert Everett) is convinced by his tart du jour to allow women to play women's roles on the stage, thus dethroning Kynaston as the actress of the time, driving him into tawdry masquerades in pubs after a severe beating from thugs beckoned by the bloated Sir Charles Sedley (Richard Griffiths). Maria Hughes thus becomes the first 'compleat female actress' and this transition between Kynaston and Maria results in desperate tutoring lessons before Maria can play Desdemona for the King. For the first time in his life Kynaston must examine his own sexuality and his successful final curtain after playing Othello to Maria's Desdemona gratefully leaves that choice up in the air.

The script is a delight, the actors are all first rate, especially the wholly immersed Crudup and Danes who could well be part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, so fine is their British sound, demeanor, and Shakespeare! The supporting cast is a kaleidoscope of jewel-like performances from Everett, Wilkinson, Edward Fox, Hugh Bonneville among others. The mood is appropriately British - all dark, candlelit stagecraft and foggy marsh vistas - and the music matches the overall picture. Richard Eyre has directed a film that deserves many kudos, but the main glory should shine on his ability to explore the spectrum of gender and sexuality with dignity, intelligence, and tremendous sensitivity. A welcome delight!

The Aesthetics of Deception
Robert Morris | Dallas, Texas | 12/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I saw this film the evening after seeing Being Julia and thoroughly enjoyed both. Much of Stage Beauty is based on historical material which Helen Wilcox examines in Women in Literature in Britain, 1500-1700. Jeffrey Hatcher's screenplay is based on his own Compleat Female Stage Beauty, a play first performed in 1999. We know that Edward (Ned) Kynaston (1640-1706) was among the last and reputedly the best of the male actors of female parts in dramas performed prior to the Restoration period. Following his coronation, King Charles II decreed that females would be permitted to appear on stage in roles previously performed only by males. For many male actors, the subsequent transition was very, very difficult. There are certain parallels with the difficulties that stars such as John Gilbert had during the transition from silent films to "the talkies."

What we have in Stage Beauty is a delightful presentation of that age and, more specifically, of Kynaston's struggles (brilliantly presented by Billy Crudup) to salvage his career in juxtaposition with those of his dresser Maria (Claire Danes), an unskilled but aspiring actress, who seeks Ned's tutelage to advance her own career. Frankly, I did not immediately recognize the always-superb Rupert Everett in the role of Charles II. Others in the supporting cast include Ben Chaplin (as George Villars, Duke of Buckingham) and Tom Wilkinson (as Thomas Betterton). Historically, Betterton was once highly praised for his performance in Shakespeare's the role of Ophelia. In Stage Beauty, Kynaston plays Ophelia to Betterton's Moor of Venice. After Kynaston rejects the advances of the lecherous Sir Charles Sedley (Richard Griffiths), Sedley hires thugs to beat Kynaston so severely that he can no longer perform until his wounds have healed. Maria sees an opportunity, organizes what I guess could be called an "underground" performance of the play, and assumes the role of Ophelia herself. After seeing her performance, Charles II issues his proclamation and then....

Credit director Richard Eyre with obtaining superior results from his talented cast and crew. Simulating London in the 1660's was indeed a major task, achieved brilliantly by cinematographer Andrew Dunn, production designer Jim Play, and art directors Keith Slote and Jan Spoczynski. Of course, many of the comic devices in both Hatcher's play and in this film can be traced back to classical Greek and Roman comedies, with the female roles in all of which performed by males. For example, all manner of mischief is achieved through mistaken identity, role and gender reversals, double entrendres, elaborate disguises, no sequitors, etc. The highly literate screenplay invests the nimble narrative with style and grace as Ned and Maria proceed to the inevitable, indeed obligatory resolution. Great fun! Those who share my high regard for this film are urged to check out Victor/Victoria and Tootsie (in 1982) as well as Shakespeare in Love (1998).

"Saturday, Othello...the other one..."
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 10/08/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Comparisons between "Stage Beauty" and "Shakespeare in Love" are inevitable, but this 2004 film does not suffer much by the contrast to that Oscar winner for Best Picture. Both films deal with the conventions of the English stage that dictated the roles of women be played by men and while both have a woman who wants to play a woman's role, this one has a man who wants to play only women's roles. Both films conclude with a live performance in which the focal character ends up playing the opposite of their original roles. Both films are intricately involved with the Shakespeare plays being performed to such an extent that it goes beyond life imitating art. But whereas "Shakespeare in Love" was about writing and love, "Stage Beauty" is about acting and love, and I think it is ultimately more about its primary artistic focus than about romance.

When it comes to performing the classical plays of Shakespeare or the tragedies of the ancient Greeks, I believe in realistic (nee naturalistic) acting rather than following the acting conventions of those periods in contemporary performances. I enjoy those conventions, but I also think that if you can break the poetic constraints of the dialogue you can make those texts come alive for contemporary audiences. So one of the reasons "Stage Beauty" resonates so strong for me is that it not only endorses but also celebrates the idea that such realism can have much more of a profound impact on an audience that those historically accurate sytlistic conventions.

Half the inspiration for the original play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty" was when playwright Jeffrey Hatcher came across an entry in the diary of Samuel Pepys (Hugh Bonneville) that the actor Ned Kynaston was the most beautiful woman in the house when he was portraying one upon the stage. The other half was the decision of Charles II (Rupert Everett) to not only revoke the prohibition of women acting on stage, but to declare instead that henceforth only women would play female roles on the English stage. Thus we have the story of the most famous female impersonator of his day suddenly thrust into a world where he is no longer allowed to do what he does best.

Billy Crudup plays Kynaston and his success as a woman on stage hinges in part on the acting conventions of the time. He has studied the affected mannerisms demanded of the women characters on stage and if you would fault Kynaston's portrayal as Desdemona you can level the same charges against the Othello being played by Betterton (Tom Wilkinson). This is simply what acting was during the Stuart Restoration. Pointedly, a pair of women with aspirations towards acting on the stage doom Kynaston's career, one being his dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), who has memorized each inflection and gesture of his Desdemona and performed it in a tavern (which is technically not a theater). The other is Nell Gwynn (Zoe Tapper), the king's mistress, who has more than the king's ear when it comes to persuading him to change the way things are in the theaters of London.

There is, as you would suspect, some sexual tension between Maria and Kynaston, although it is more ardent on her part for most of the story. She loves him, but he loves acting. His argument against women playing women is that there is no "trick" to it. I was going to say that he means no skill to such performances, but he really does mean trick. Kyanston has studied his craft and literally suffered as his training stripped him of every aspect of acting masculine. He has the trick of creating the illusion of a perfect woman (for example, the five positions of feminine subjugation), without the skill of acting the part, and he is offended by the very idea that being born a woman would give Maria or any other woman any advantage in doing so. It is only when Maria and Kynaston discuss the tricks of being a woman versus being a man, after his life has been taken away from him, that he not only sees her as a woman but begins to see himself as a man. For her the key is her admission that she has never been able to do his Desdemona, not because it is mimicry, but because she disagrees vehemently with his premise that the character would not fight back when Othello murders her in her bed chamber.

This all sets up the grand finale and for me the last act of "Stage Beauty" when we get to the rehearsal and performance of the play is totally captivating. In one of the DVD features director Richard Eyre ("Iris") describes what we are seeing as the birth of naturalistic acting, which is exactly why I was so absorbed and why I know that those who have acted or directed actors, will respond to those scenes and this movie in different ways from those whose vantage point has always been as members of the audience. Danes shows flashes of brilliance which we have not seen from her since her death scene in "Little Women." But Crudup gets special mention here, not only because his role is the pivotal one in the story and because he gets to play both Desdemona and Othello, but because his character is put through the wringer and has to evince two different styles of acting."