Just about a year ago I mentioned Stage Beauty, and people chimed in to tell me how awesome it is. The 2004 production stars Billy Crudup and Claire Danes in what could be called "Shakespeare In Love meets Othello." In the more well-known production, a woman is forbidden from playing a woman's role, so she masquerades as a man in order to play a woman. In Stage Beauty the king has ruled that women must play the women's roles, which leaves Crudup, the greatest Desdemona of his time, discovering that he has played a woman for so long that he is incapable of playing a man.
I am really glad I watched this, I greatly enjoyed it. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Othello, but really the only Shakespeare in this play was the death scene of Desdemona, they did that over and over again. And that's a good scene. The acting from both Danes and Crudup was tremendous. The theme of gender and identity was pretty complex. The scene where Crudup is put to the test (he claims that it is so easy to act a man's part that there's no challenge) is absolutely riveting. On the other side you've got Danes, the first female to ever act on stage, who has no idea what it means to "act female" because the best she can do is her impression of what she has seen the men do.
The final scene had me on the edge of my seat. Maybe that's because the movie was that good, or maybe that's because I'd been waiting the whole movie to see some real Shakespeare performed(*). Who cares, I got what I wanted. Great movie. Highly recommended.
(*) Ok, I'm a bit of a geek. There's a scene halfway through the movie where Crudup begs the king to reverse his decision and let him act again. He cannot play a man's role because there is no artistry in it, he says. Claire Danes suggests that he demonstrate how he can act a man's role as a demonstration of his command of the stage, so that the king will see that a true actor can play any role and thus be convinced. The king says, "Yes. Perform a soliloquoy that displays all that is bold and strong and masculine in a man. Let's see you as Othello." I got goosebumps and sat up in my seat just anticipating that. (The scene that follows, by the way, is lousy Shakespeare but beautiful acting.)