Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Richard Griffiths, Rupert Everett, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville, Zoe Tapper
If you want something intellectually challenging, please re-read the ‘what’s on’ board. If you want something frivolous and mildly silly, proceed to screen 5.
Ned Kynaston (Crudup) is a man accustomed to being a woman. He is ‘the most beautiful woman on stage’ in the theatre during the reign of Charles II (Everett). As such, his self-esteem, and indeed arrogance, is astounding and he is not generally a pleasant fellow to be around. However his dresser Maria (Danes) thinks the world of him, much to his ignorance. Kynaston is too busy using his status to dally with men and women alike who have power and wealth.
Kynaston’s life gets turned upside down by Charles’ decree that now all women’s roles are not only allowed to be played by women, but must be played by women. Kynaston finds it impossible to adjust to having to be manly; he can only be effeminate on stage and to some extent off stage. He is even more appalled that the cause of this anguish is Maria herself who so badly wanted to act and gained the help of Nell Gwyn, the King’s mistress (Tapper). Kynaston goes through ordeals aplenty before eventually managing to come to some sort of self-knowledge and finally gets to play out a decent death scene in Othello.
For anyone who saw the King Charles II series on TV a while back, this film may well seem a little like dčja vu, except Everett is a much less serious and convincing King Charles. The similarities lie in the debauchery of the time displayed and the explicit insinuations and downright soft-porn nature of the majority of the film. Definitely not for the easily shocked.
There are some deep issues of sexuality embedded in the film through the character of Kynaston and some insight into historical theatre, but unfortunately it is all hidden beneath layers of smut and insinuous dialogue, although being a 15 it has very little actual nudity (Though rated R in America).
Ben Chaplin and Richard Griffiths succeed in portraying believable incredibly slimy men in love with the young and beautiful, while Hugh Bonneville stars as a very likeable Samuel Pepys, being the only really nice guy around. Zoe Tapper is over-the-top as Nell Gwyn but is really just playing to the stereotype image of the infamous king’s mistress.
In the middle of the film there is some real depth to the characters and the audience feels real pity and anguish on Kynaston’s behalf as he fails astonishingly to act a male part on stage for the King. Maria also draws sympathy as her love is spurned and her awful acting is ridiculed. The character development is certainly played out well and Crudup and Danes must be commended for playing such emotionally charged and difficult roles adequately, but overall it is a film to be laughed at for its audacity and cringed at frequently.