Stage Beauty is another adaptation of a play. Yawn? Well don't, because it also happens to make a highly successful transition from stage to screen thanks to the genius that is director Richard Eyre.
It tells the tale of Ned (Billy Crudup), a young actor who specialises in portraying women on stage. In a world where only men are allowed to tread the boards, Ned's "Desdemona" (from Shakespeare's Othello) is the closest thing 17th century audiences get to femininity in theatre. However, a young upstart in the form of Maria (played by Clare Danes) wants to change all that. She has a passion for drama and unfortunately the bisexual Ned. With the help of King Charles II (Rupert Everett), she may just get her wish, changing theatre forever, and hopefully pick up Ned on the way.
When thinking of the themes of the film, many people dismiss it as a clone of Shakespeare in Love. This is unfair- the film is more thought provoking, substantial and better acted than the aforementioned Oscar snaffler. It explores themes of sexuality and gender with insight and intelligence as well as telling (and, in fact enthralling us with) a love story. As previously referred to, the acting is exceptional, especially the two leads (Danes and Crudup) who shine. The supporting cast is strong too, with Richard Griffiths as a heterosexual prequel to his role in Withnail and I, Tom Wilkinson brimming with quiet intensity as Betterton and Everett hamming it up wonderfully as the King.
Even if it does end on a slightly trite note (not to give too much away, but its' "birth of method acting" shtick irritates), Stage Beauty is a funny, heart-warming and occasionally quite cerebral meditation on love and art. What more could any theatre, or film lover for that matter, want? And don't say Shakespeare In Love!