starring Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett
screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on his play "Compleat Female Stage Beauty"
directed by Richard Eyre
by Walter Chaw A Samuel Pepys quotation opens Stage Beauty, something about how in the seventeenth century, Ned Kynaston was the most beautiful woman on a stage that forbade women from strutting and fretting their hours. Playing Desdemona in a mannered production of "Othello", Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is king of the roost, oblivious to the crush of his ahistorical assistant, Mrs. Margaret "Maria" Hughes (a sort of well-cast Claire Danes), the first lady of the theatre, who fulfills her destiny when bawdy King Charlie II (Rupert Everett in fine form--why not a film about him?) turns the gender tables and declares it illegal for women's parts in the theatre to not be played by women. The one comparison that sticks is a somehow more dewy Shakespeare in Love, where delighted trills of "ribaldry" threaten to roll ironically off the tongue in the voice of Jon Lovitz's late, lamented English dandy theatre critic from "SNL". Playful but not fun, teasing but not sexy, Stage Beauty is an airless exercise in Method that, when the time comes for the film to finally reach its apogee, suggests that Stanislavsky/Strasberg was born on a stage in 1660. Intended as piquant, the ending is just shades of that episode of "Cheers" where nobody notices that someone is actually killing Diane in a bar-bound production of, you guessed it, "Othello". It was better--and shorter--the first time.