Richard Eyre

 Richard Eyre
In the mid-'90s, Claire Danes and Billy Crudup, to varying degrees, were given "it boy/girl" status after breakthrough roles in TV's My So-Called Life and the much-hyped child molestation saga Sleepers. However, Hollywood seemed to speak too soon as both actors failed to live up to the expectations the media placed upon them. Ten years later, the two unite in Stage Beauty, a British film about two rival actors during the Renaissance, one the last man to play a woman on stage (Crudup) and the other the first woman to do the same (Danes). The film discusses, among many other subjects, the politics of celebrity during that time, in that fame was less about talent than it was about hype. Danes and Crudup can surely relate on some level, though if this film is any indication, talent is not something either of them lack. Danes plays Maria, an assistant to Ned Kynaston (Crudup), who has gained much status with his overdramatic performance as Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello. He is known well in society, even by King Charles (a wonderfully animated Rupert Everett), and seems to get action from anyone he wants, male or female. But when the audience begins to yearn for something fresh, Ned's out and Maria's in. Lost in his lack of fame, Ned takes an unlikely friend in Maria and the two of them begin to help each other. Besides the obvious compliments toward the lavish and precise sets and costumes (when a film is set in such a time, it is almost assumed these attributes will be commendable), there is much to admire in Richard Eyre's take on Shakespearian actors (though there is also much to compare with 1998's Shakespeare in Love, which takes on a very similar focus). The script is often hilarious, which blends well with the more serious themes. The roles are all well cast, with both Crudup and Danes nailing the material but what's most important is how it all comes together. The completed film may be very funny and entertaining but also asks a lot of very interesting questions: what does it mean to be male/female? What does it mean to act? If they continue choosing films such as this, Danes and Crudup may just be worth the decade-old hype. (Lions Gate)