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 »Home Ent. Release Date: 05/22/2007 Starring: Claire Danes Rupert Everett Run time: 109 minutes Rating: R« less
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.
2 of 2 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.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
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 Othello...in 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."
A 'Compleatly' Wonderful Film!
Hikari | Lima, OH USA | 11/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whether you're a Shakespeare buff, or a fan of the theatre in any period, you can't afford to miss this one! Comparisons to Shakespeare in Love are inevitable, down to the framework of a Shakespearian play-within-a-play, and the central role of an appealing blonde actress struggling against societal mores to claim her dream of taking the stage. I am not in accord with those reviewers who regard Stage Beauty as Shakespeare in Love-lite, however. It's `compleatly' the other way around . . .with its darker tone & far more complex screenplay, Stage Beauty tackles ground which the earlier film dreamt not of. Whereas Shakespeare in Love was rather like a jolly Disney ride through Shakespearian London, Stage Beauty reflects a much grittier, often unflinching, portrait of what life was like in the thespian milieu, circa 1660.
`Stage Beauty is set some 60-odd years after the action of Shakespeare in Love-the Bard, long gone, is a voice in the film only through his play Othello. Billy Crudup (in a tour-de-force performance) is Edward `Ned' Kynaston, the reigning `leading lady' of the London stage. Bringing the house down night after night as Desdemona, Ned revels in his life as the top celebrity diva in town. He is attended by his faithful dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), who longs to act herself, and has memorized his performance as she watches every night from the wings. Ned and Maria have a complicated relationship; he treats her like a servant, yet seems to have more tender feelings for her as well, feelings which she secretly shares. Further complicating matters is Ned's homosexual relationship with the Duke of Buckingham (Ben Chaplin). Even though Ned has sex with men, and has been trained from boyhood to project a feminine demeanor, he can't live his life offstage as a woman. And even though a `manly' mode of being feels unnatural, his underlying masculinity is always showing through his mask of painstakingly cultivated femininity. The world `pansexual' could have been coined for him. One of the strengths of the film is how it captures the fluidity of sexuality prevalent at the time . . .Ned is a man who plays women, yet women respond to the person under the costume. Ned sleeps with a man who rejects him for a `real' woman, and yet at the same time, Ned finds himself attracted to his female dresser. At this time, dressing in drag was thought to be the height of hilarity, and even the King could wear a dress to the vast entertainment of his guests. In this overheated atmosphere of sexual confusion, and blurring of gender identity labels, this time seems not a great deal different than our own.
Ned tumbles from the pinnacle of success to the dregs of society almost overnight as a number of misfortunes pile up at once: Maria's performance as the first female Desdemona in an underground theatre production catches the attention of the Court, leading the King to grant permission for women to perform on stage. When Ned inadvertently insults the King's mistress, this leniency hardens into a ban against male actors playing any women's parts. Suddenly unemployable in the only field he knows, Ned is severely beaten by thugs hired by Maria's patron, and starts to slip into alcoholism. Rejected by the stage for not being a `real' woman, he is rejected by his noble lover for the same crime. When he has reached bottom, redemption comes from an unexpected quarter-an opportunity to return to the stage in Othello, this time playing the man's part . . . opposite the woman who stole his livelihood, and in his eyes, his very life. Once again the lines between stage and reality blur, as the Moor and Ned have both been wounded deeply by women they love, and both have `cause' for revenge. The scene where Maria & Ned are reunited on stage is as breathlessly compelling for us as it must have been for the first audiences witnessing naturalistic performances on the stage.
I really can't rave about this film enough. Billy Crudup carries the film in a multifaceted and grueling part. He does make a pretty girl, too, though I prefer him as a guy. Claire Danes hits the right note as Maria . . .low-key and in the background when that is called for, and then radiant or petulant by turns when that is called for. She does not swan about self-assuredly like the lady of noble birth slumming on the boards like Gwneth Paltrow's Lady Viola in Shakespeare in Love; Maria is a commoner, someone who has had to survive a hardscrabble existence by hard work, her wits and by her loyalty to her employer. When she betrays that loyalty and sets the events of the movie in motion, it is for her deeply-felt conviction that acting is more than a lark or a hobby, it is something she must do, even if she does it badly. An all-star cast lends support, including Hugh Bonneville as an endearingly befuddled Samuel Pepys, perpetual diarist (One of my favorite lines is when Ben Chaplin as the Duke of Buckingham tells Ned: `If two mice were in a nutshell screwing, Pepys would find a way to squeeze in and write it down'), and Rupert Everett, in a wry, campy performance as Charles II, looking rather like he wandered over from the Three Musketeers set, but having a wonderful time. Tom Wilkinson plays Mr. Betterton, the owner of Ned's theatre and his co-star, an enthusiastically bad Othello. Also deserving mention is newcomer Zoe Tropper, who is a delightfully bawdy and pulchritudinous Nell Gwynn. Asked about her parentage, Nell responds, cheerfully, "Me mum was a whore; me dad was in the Navy . . .that's why I don't do sailors!"
If watching Stage Beauty isn't as addictive as chocolate (I watched it twice in two days), and if it doesn't make you want to go out immediately and get your local library's copy of Othello so you can revisit Desdemona's death scene, then tack a mustache on me and call me a boy! "
Lostgirl | 12/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Comparisons between Stage Beauty and Shakespeare in Love are inevitablle. Though Stage Beauty is set about a generation after Shakespeare, both are love stories that deal with the conceit of a man playing a a woman onstage. However, Shakespeare In Love's high profile overshadowed Stage Beauty and more's the pity because Stage Beauty is the better film.
Ned Kynistan (Billy Crudup) has made his career playing women's roles and is considered by meany to be the most beautiful woman on the London stage. offstage however, Ned is deeply confused about his sexuality having been taught and trained from childhood to surpress anything masculine in him. His dressing girl Maria (Claire Danes) watches him from the wings each night mouthing his lines and stealing off to a pub where she illegally performs female roles to crowds interested in the novelty. When the king (Rupert Everett) proclaims that women's roles are to be played by women Ned is suddenly out of a job and Maria takes his place as the toast of the theater world.
All Ned knows is how to mimic a woman. All Maria knows of acting she learned from Ned. Therefore we see her mimic his exaggerated gestures- but coming from a woman they seem false and artificial. Maria comes to fear that she is not an actress but a novelty. Meanwhile Ned is unable to play men, having worked his whole life at being feminine. It takes a few intervening parties including the king and his mistress Nell Gwynn to show Ned and Maria that they are the ones to help each other. We see Ned and Maria stumble into a romance born on the ground of initial fondness and combined with jealousy and resentment. When they perform the death scene from Othello, all of these come into play with the actors as well as the chatacters they play. When Ned attacks Maria for attempting to do something that he'd spent his whole life training to do, she freely admits that she had no teacher but she had less need of practice- she is able to understand what it is to be a woman based on experience, not soley on observation: something that will be her greatest asset as an actress. She also asserts that Ned's formal training left him trapped in a man's body that he has no idea how to inhabit. Every word is true and Ned must struggle to form an identity regardless of whether it is masculine or feminine. He needs to learn to be a person separate from the roles he plays.
All of the performances are good but Crudup and Danes stand out in their roles. Crudup is given a difficult task: to portray a man, raised as a woman and then rejected as one. He's left as a man, which he doesn't know how to be. His walk is affected with a swing in his hips, his voice approaches a falsetto even when he's not in character. Danes has proven herself to be a highly skilled and innately gifted actors many times. She proved adept at Shakespeare's language in Romeo + Juliet, so it's all the more amusing to watch Maria stumble through Shakespeare's lines and put on artificial airs. At the same time she's legitimately in pain; acting is her passion but she struggles with the knowledge that she's terrible at it. Both Danes and Crudup have to play actors- in other words they must play Ned and Maria playing Othello and Desemona. It's a rough thing to do but they pull it off on all levels.
Based on a stage play the dialogue is witty, and Richard Eyre's direction is more than able. The costumes and the scenery are lovely, but unlike in many period films they are not the show. That belongs to the actors, the dialogue and the story."