Stage Beauty

"Weak"

Stage Beauty Review


A Renaissance drama set during the last days of men playing women in the English theater, "Stage Beauty" is peculiarly out of sync with its own narrative.

Akin to "Shakespeare in Love" and "Girl With a Pearl Earring" in fictionalizing real historical figures, the film stars Billy Crudup ("Almost Famous," "Big Fish") as Ned Kynaston, an acclaimed actor of female roles in the 1650s whose career is ruined by King Charles II's decree reversing Puritan rules that banished actresses from the stage. Claire Danes plays Maria, his devoted dresser who is destined to take his place as the toast of the London theater when she becomes the first woman to take to the boards in 18 years.

It should be an enthralling tale, but too many story elements just don't jibe.

The praise heaped on Kynaston's ability to play feminine seems misplaced. His falsetto and florid mannerisms wouldn't even pass muster with drag queens, and his highly-stylized acting, while perhaps accurate for the period, provides nothing to convince modern audiences of his talent. The innately masculine Crudup is much more convincing out of costume and falling apart as his character panics over his disintegrating career.

Maria's rise to prominence -- under the stage name Mrs. Margaret Hughes, a real actress of the time -- is another stumbling block. She is championed by a corpulent, flamboyant high-society patron (Richard Griffiths, the cruel uncle in the "Harry Potter" movies), shown in an early scene to be quite the pervert. It's impossible to believe he'd be helping her along out of the kindness of his heart, yet the film never addresses in any way what he might be expecting, or receiving, in exchange.

When Maria does break out, playing Desdemona in a production of "Othello" with breathtaking intensity -- at least in her death scene, which the film seems obsessed with repeating -- it's under the guidance of Kynaston, whom she has rescued from a downward spiral into shameful burlesque. But it's curious and incongruous that he could lead her to such a natural performance (she even abandons the greasepaint worn by her co-stars) when he was never capable of the same.

These two characters are the heart of the story, so as their pivotal contradictions go, so goes the movie. While the performances of the picture's two underrated stars are nothing if not compelling (save Crudup's cross-dressing), little else in "Stage Beauty" feels organic -- and especially not an over-staged, over-edited, unintentionally funny love scene between Kynaston and Maria. At times it almost feels as if director Richard Eyre ("Iris") is doing everything he can to make the film seem melodramatic and absurd. Even the score, an electro-Renaissance over-mix of mandolin, harpsichord and fiddle, is conspicuously anomalous.

"Stage Beauty" is propped up by a strong supporting cast including Ben Chaplin ("Murder by Numbers") as the Duke of Buckingham and Kynaston's sometime lover, Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom") as the owner and lead actor at Kynaston's theater, Hugh Bonneville as Samuel Pepys, and especially Rupert Everett as a silly, pompous King Charles and Zoe Tapper as the king's shameless, low-born mistress. This young actress, who was hired straight out of drama school, is phenomenal at showing the shrewd intelligence behind her character's tarty, girlish wiles.

But while it may entertain history buffs curious to see how it bends and blends facts with speculation, the pieces of this period puzzle simply don't fit together the way they should.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Friday 3rd September 2004

Box Office Worldwide: $776.7 thousand

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Derek Hutchinson as Stage Manager, Mark Letheren as Male Emelia/Dickie, as Maria, as Ned Kynaston, as Betterton, as George Villiars, Duke of Buckingham, as Samuel Pepys, Jack Kempton as Call Boy, as Lady Meresvale, David Westhead as Harry, Nick Barber as Nick, as Thomas Cockerell, as Sir Charles Sedley, as Nell Gwynn, as Miss Frayne

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.