By William Wolf

STAGE BEAUTY  Send This Review to a Friend

Credit Billy Crudup with one of the year’s most affecting and effective performances in “Stage Beauty,” a colorful evocation of 1660s London when only men performed women’s roles on stage. Crudup does brilliantly as actor Edward “Ned” Kynaston, whose specialty is playing such heroines as Desdemona. He is lauded for his stage femininity but mocked off stage for the same qualities. “Stage Beauty” was a highlight of the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.

The theater and convention are about to change. Along comes Claire Danes as Maria, Kynaston’s assistant, who has acting aspirations of her own and is about to break the barrier. When the law decrees that only women can play women’s roles, Kynaston is rendered obsolete. Playing women is all he knows, and his clumsy efforts to portray men are ridiculed.

Screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher has constructed a colorful if sometimes unlikely drama around the situation. For example, Danes as Maria and Crudup as Kynaston do a bit of sexual experimenting, not a bad idea in itself, but awkward when wrapped with silly dialogue about their proclivities.

Nonetheless, Crudup’s performance is outstanding, and Danes does well too. The basic situation, however contrived, makes for skeptically enjoyable viewing, with such characters as King Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Nell Gwyn tossed into the hopper. Richard Eyre has directed with flair, the settings and costumes are imaginative and the cast roster is on a high level, including Rupert Everett, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin, Hugh Bonneville, Richard Griffiths, Edward Fox and Zoë Tapper. A Lions Gate Films release.


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