Easily the year's most romantic film, Shakespeare in Love's object of passion is not so much a woman or a man, but a place -- the Elizabethan theater hall. As much as Joseph Fiennes' Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow's Viola de Lesseps (great character name) might love each other, their true amour is for the theater. Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman's delightful script mixes fact and fiction with unrestrained glee, drunk on the joys of language and performance -- both wildly witty and woozily romantic. The script's only fault is that it takes a while to get going, pausing early for some ill-advised anachronistic comedy.
As fine as the screenplay is, it wouldn't work without a bevy of first-rate performances. Especially impressive is Gwyneth Paltrow making an artistic comeback; after some fine early work in films like Hard Eight, she's been too busy making crap films like Hush or A Perfect Murder. She's perfectly cast, and nails the literate dialog as if she were born speaking iambic pentameter. Joseph Fiennes is almost as good, turning in more promising work than his humdrum job in Elizabeth. Together, they're a perfectly matched romantic pair. The company of players behind them is uniformly superb, with particular standout work from Tom Wilkinson as the gangster producer who slowly falls in love with the stage.