After reviewing RE: Apocalypse, I cannot think of a more different movie. I must admit, I was not really looking forward to this one. If there is one genre of movie that I do not like, ever, it is the “Merchant Ivory” period drama. Until now, that is.
Stage Beauty is a fantastic, involving, movie based on character and emotion charting the evolution of theatre. Billy Crudup plays pre-eminent actor Ned Kynaston who, as was the norm in this time, played female roles. His dresser Maria (Claire Danes) has some sexual ambitions with regard to Ned, but she is far below his station. In an effort to get closer to Ned, she begins to play his theatrical parts, mimicking every action, recollecting every word from off stage. Maria has more insidious motives, however, and decides to play the signature role of Ned's, Othello's Desdemona, in a back alley theatre - an illegal act in these times. This back street Othello play continues to sell out and eventually Maria's performance garners the acceptance of the king, thus guaranteeing the legalisation of female actors, and the demise of actors like Ned Kynaston.
In one hand this is a feminine success story, another would be of confused sexuality and yet another would be the development of society through the telling of theatrical history. It sounds dry and academic, but Stage Beauty is a fun movie that tells high emotional stories without becoming too weighed down. Pacing is smartly done, with tense emotive performances never allowed to become overbearing and is helped enormously due to the universally good acting. Deep, heartfelt themes run throughout, never more so than for Ned. Now women can act, the painful realisation that Ned's particular niche in theatre has been destroyed is wonderfully done and totally believable. His slide into disarray is juxtaposed with his homosexual confusion, and Maria's continued longing for Ned who remains as far from her as ever.
All Stage Beauty's themes whirl around a central goal where one cannot be resolved without the co-operation of the others. It is to the movie's credit that this rather complex story arrangement never disintegrates into messy exposition. Instead the conclusion is an incredibly tense, if rather modern one, and thoughtfully brings together the story with remarkable symmetry.
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