London, England. 1593. The aspiring playwright Will Shakespeare finds himself at a loss for words with his latest endeavor, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirates Daughter. Meanwhile the young Lady Viola dreams of landing a theatrical role—all the while realizing the forbidden nature of such a undertaking. Disgusted with 16th century gender constraints, Lady Viola resolves to beat the system by disguising herself as a man for Shakespeare’s auditions. She lands the role of Romeo. Before long, Will discovers the truth about Lady Viola. He falls madly in “love” with the young actress—an infatuation which frees him from the shackles of writers block, driving his once-belabored project towards the masterful and passionate completion of the now famous Romeo and Juliet.
Positive Elements: By no means is Shakespeare in Love an attempt at historic accuracy. However, the film does portray a realistic Elizabethan setting—igniting imagination and bringing history alive for viewers. While it could be argued that the film promotes passionate playwriting and theatrical performance, more often than not this zeal exits stage left—straight into bed.
Sexual Content: The camera leers lingeringly at female nudity on several occasions. Characters graphically engage in sexual intercourse numerous times. Philosophically speaking, the film seems to equate promiscuous sexuality and adulterous relationships with passionate creativity—a confusing message for teens seeking a source for their creative energy. Sexual references like, “She’s been plucked”—referring to loss of virginity—surface as well.
Violent Content: A brawl breaks out in a theater at one point—involving forceful blows, sword fighting and furniture throwing. In one scene a knife is threateningly placed against a man’s throat. The play which Shakespeare composes, Romeo and Juliet, ends on the tragic note of a double suicide.
Crude or Profane Language: A few instances of mild profanity and two s-words. God’s name is used inappropriately on occasion as well
Other Negative Elements: Isolated alcohol use and drunkenness. A tavern provides a sordid backdrop for one scene.
Summary: In light of its numerous Oscar nominations, Shakespeare in Love has been virtually guaranteed a longer shelf-life than it deserves. That’s too bad. This film is severely marred with sensuality and explicit sexuality. Viewers are cheated out of a positive portrayal of true love and passion and given instead a royal dose of adultery and lust.