Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stage Beauty (2005) or How a Desdemona Should Die

I have often seen this movie on the DVD shelves and always felt reluctant to pick it up.  I finally did and I wish I had picked it up earlier…or perhaps it is a good thing that I reserved some anticipation for it.StageBeauty-6
Stage Beauty tells the story of Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), a British actor who famously played women’s roles in 17th Century London, where women were banned from performing on stage. Conflict arises when his personal assistant, Mariah/Margaret Hughes (Claire Danes), begins to perform.  Soon, King Charles II (Rupert Everett) imposes a law reversal where all women’s role must only be played by women—putting Kynaston out of commission.
Kynaston is forced to either leave the stage or play male characters…which is a bit of a problem since he was, since his youth, plucked out by some mentor for his feminine beauty and trained specifically to act like a woman. His feminine mannerisms are hard to get rid of.
In one excruciating scene, he makes a plea to the king to allow him to act as a woman again. “It is not a question of acting a man. I can act a man—There’s no artistry in that. There are things I can be as a woman that I cannot be as man.”

I beg to differ.  In my opinion, men’s roles are much harder since society puts so much constraints on how a man should be.  How can an actor cry like a man, realistically?  How can a man show to an audience that he feels weak and vulnerable, when in real life a man usually hides it when he feels weak?

This movie reminds me a lot of Shakespeare in Love (1998), and I can’t help but view Claire Danes as a mini Gwyneth Paltrow. Yet let’s not forget, Danes did Shakespeare way before Gwyneth did in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Whereas Shakespeare In Love revolved around a stage performance of Romeo and Juliet, Stage Beauty revolves around a performance of Othello, more specifically, the scene where Othello kills Desdemona. This scene is performed twice; once in the beginning of the movie with Billy Crudup in drag as Desdemona and Tom Wilkinson with his face blackened as Othello, and the other in the end with Crudup as Othello and Danes as Desdemona. The contrast is stark.  The first performance is mannered and artificial, while the second performance is realistic, where the theatre audience are so convinced by the performance that they, and we, actually think that Desdemona is dead (which she very well might be considering the circumstance). In parallel, the first performance could be like watching Sir Laurence Olivier (to a lesser degree), while the second performance compares to seeing a Marlon Brando- like moment.
This movie is directed by Richard Eyre (Iris, Notes on a Scandal). I am very excited by this man and cannot wait to see more of his work.  He has a unique ability with British cinema, in which he has a relish and respect for the English language in such an uncompromising manner.
I also continue to be blown away by Miss Danes remarkable talent.  I have been a fan of her way back since My So Called Life.

On a side note of intrigue, fairly surprising to me, Billy Crudup left his girlfriend of seven years, Mary Louise Parker (Weeds, Angels in America), who was seven months pregnant. Less than a year later, Danes and Crudup announced that they were dating…only to split up in 2006.
Now I shouldn’t want to judge neither parties since I or none of us can really comprehend their circumstance, but I can’t help but undermine Crudup’s character or feel bad for Mary Louise Parker—whom I adore to death.

Another interesting side note: Billy Crudup and Claire Danes were in another movie together before this. Both lent their voices in the English version of the Hayao Miyazaki film, Princess Manonoke with Crudup as the heroic Ashitaka and Danes as the free-spirited San.  Their two characters sorta fall in love.

This movies is based on real life events..although it may not be historically accurate, it does serve to entertain and provide excellent insight.

Robert De Niro is a Producer in this movie. I wonder if that whole thing in Flawless, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in drag, stuck close with him years after…StageBeauty-7
The film also stars Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films and that perv teacher in History Boys) and Ben Chaplin, who plays the guy who has a taste for women in drag—or the “woman on stage” as he likes to put it.

Rupert Everett as King Charles II is constantly surrounded by Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  In one scene, his mistress gives him a blow job in a bed full of Spaniels.

I can’t believe I wrote this much about a movie I felt so reluctant to see. If you do decide to watch it, if you are one of those people – like me—who so desperately want to like (or at least understand)Shakespeare, then I promise you that you will be delightfully surprised by this movie.

I watched it three times already.


Sebina said...

Hi Nik, I here by give you the Premio Dardos Award, because of your versatile interests showed through your most interesting posts.

Read more about it at my blog:

Nik said...

Thank you so much Sebina! :)