What I'd forgotten, or never noticed, about this movie is that more than just being a love story - it's also a love letter. A Love Letter to Shakespeare.
Throughout the movie we see individuals who rail against theatre (the Puritan zealot), or infiltrate the "business" for nefarious means (Fennyman), or are a stuttering wannabe (Wabash), or a faceless rabble made up of men and women from all walks of life - all of whom end up a part of Will's play at the end, and are transformed by what they speak and hear and see. Especially the Puritan zealot, who blows kisses to the actors through his tears during the wild applause.
Back up. So the film is about Will Shakespeare: young, virile, and wildly modern; and the lady Viola de Lessups: new money, unrestrained, and a sighing romantic. She will have poetry in her life, people! Love without poetry?! Marriage without Love?! What dost thou takest her for?! She is in love with his words. He falls in love with her at second sight (at first sight she was disguised as a young actor, Thomas Kent, in order to audition for his new play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter.) It's a doomed romance from the beginning, but they allow their passion to wash over them regardless of what will come, and Will draws inspiration from their story to write the most famous romance in dramatic history.
There's so much to love about this movie, especially if you've ever worked in theatre. The most lasting impression this movie has made (besides capturing Joseph Fiennes's swooniness for all time) is the line "It'll all turn out well." "How will it?" "I don't know, it's a mystery." Because in live theatre, every successful performance really is its own small miracle.
The cast. It's perfect. That's all I can say.
IMDB trivia I loved: Judy Dench's heels were so high as Queen E 1 that director John Madden nicknamed her "Tudor Spice." 90s joke!
You can watch and enjoy this movie as it is: a sexy romance with actorly jokes and a strapping Shakespeare. But only this time (probably close to a hundredth time watching it) did I see how this movie shows the transformational power of Shakespeare's words. Not everyone comes away changed (lookin' at you, Wessex), but many do. And that's fitting in its own way - you're not going to reach everyone through art, but you can touch a few - some for a moment, some for a lifetime, and some for ever after.