In 2003 (and at considerable expense) I bought the 'Superbit' DVD of this wonderful film to get the best picture quality I could and it was far better than the standard DVD version (even though it didn't have the extras the standard DVD did). But this January 2011 BLU RAY reissue with its superlative picture quality AND nicely complimentary extras - trumps all previous formats. And at less than ten quid, it's reasonably priced too. But to the details first...
Originally released into cinemas in early 1999, "Shakespeare In Love" was nominated for a whopping 13 Academy Awards and went on to win 7 - Best Picture, Best Leading and Supporting Actress, Screenplay, Set Design, Costumes and Music. So many things came together on this film - the inspired casting of Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes as Viola De Lessops and William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Rush as the permanently living-on-the-edge theatre owner Philip Henslowe (his dialogue titles this review), Colin Firth as the dastardly and arrogant Lord Wessex (wittily refers to life in 1593 as "Dallas in frocks"), right down to the ordinary-people emotion of Imelda Staunton who is superb as Viola's nurse. In fact the entire ensemble cast (Tom Wilkinson, Martin Clunes, Rupert Everett, Jim Carter and Simon Callow) are all superlative and add hugely to its overall classy feel. There's John Madden's assured direction (he did "Mrs. Brown"), the beautifully evocative score by Steven Warbeck, the 17 fully reconstructed buildings and two theatres created by the Production teams and of course the movie's true ace-in-the-hole - the stunning screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman which successfully emulates the bard's genius while at the same time making him real and human to us. Back in late 2007 I posted a List in Listmania on Amazon UK called "25 Movie Dialogues You Must Hear Before You Die" - and number 6 is the scene where Paltrow talks of love to her nursemaid as she readies for bed ("...love that will overthrow mountains...come ruin or rapture...") - it's sensational stuff and in modern-day speak equal to the bard himself (no mean feat).
This Blu Ray's default setting is 2:35 aspect (puts borders on the top and bottom of the screen automatically), but I found taking it to full-screen on my Sony didn't distort or stretch the image too much - if at all. But the real deal here is the picture quality itself - which is never less than brilliant and at times truly beautiful. The most obvious and immediately noticeable thing is the costumes. There's a scene where the 'players' are finally staging "Romeo And Juliet" in front of a rapt audience at 'The Curtain' - it cuts to Colin Firth hanging from the rafters watching his new wife play Juliet and then cuts to Joseph Fiennes as Romeo on the stage opposite Paltrow - the colours in their clothes is just awesome. Even on the indoor scenes, the lighting is fabulous - little or no blocking - a hugely enjoyable experience.
Niggles - the extras are essentially the same as the DVD - the 20-minute 'Making Of' is particularly good and includes interviews with all the key people behind the camera and in front of it (as well as other actors already mentioned, Judy Dench and Ben Affleck are also included), but it's a shame there wasn't more dug out for this reissue - it deserved it. A minor point, but one worth making...
This BLU RAY reissue of "Shakespeare In Love" is a triumph - a romantic, funny and hugely uplifting film finally given a chance to shine - and with a gorgeous print.
In the words of the great man himself (from Sonnet 18):
"So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee..."
BLU RAY Credits:
VIDEO: Full 1080p High Definition Widescreen Transfer - 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
The "My Scenes" function allows the viewer to pinpoint a part of the movie you particularly like by pressing the Green button on your remote for the start and the Blue button to end it (only as it is playing). It will create a library of scenes for you to re-watch later...
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French, Italian, German, Spanish (Castellano) and Japanese DTS-HD 5.1
SUBTITLES: English SDH (Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing), French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Traditional Mandarin
* Making Of Documentary: "Shakespeare In Love And On Film"
* Feature Length Commentary by Director John Madden
* Feature Length Commentary by Cast And Crew
* Theatrical Trailer
* 21 TV Spots
* Academy Award Winning Costumes
* Deleted Scenes