Beauty Is Not Enough
In 1660s London theatre, women were forbidden to perform on the stage. Stage Beauty tells the story of drag actor Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), described by Samuel Pepys as ďthe most beautiful woman on the stage,Ē whose life collapses when real women are allowed to compete.
The drama centres around Kynastonís relationship with Maria (Clare Danes), who begins the film as his dresser, but whose dreams of becoming an actress set his downfall in motion.
The story has obvious echoes of Shakespeare in Love and retains that filmís combination of broad humour and theatrical melodrama. The production design is similarly impressive, although budget limitations are occasionally obvious -- Charles IIís decadent court appears to be a small maisonette.
The film jumps between characters and plots, and fails to properly develop any of them. We see Maria trying to become an actress, but even she admits that sheís dreadful, so itís not clear why we should be rooting for her.
As Kynaston loses his celebrity, he becomes unsure of his own gender, but this too is unconvincing. Isnít he just depressed about not being famous anymore?
This lack of dramatic focus leads to mixed performances. Crudup comes across as convincingly androgynous, but Danes spends her time on camera impersonating Gwyneth Paltrow. Rupert Everett and newcomer ZoŽ Tapper have the most fun, going gloriously over the top as Charles II and Nell Gwyn.
Although Stage Beauty is beautifully staged, the directionless screenplay makes its 110 minutes pass very slowly.
(Released by Lions Gate Films and rated "R" for sexual content and language. Opened in New York on October 8, 2004.)