Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is Shakespeare in Love (1998).
Best known these days for the story of Harvey Weinstein’s major push that resulted in its win, Shakespeare in Love is more than that, but not much. Essentially about how Shakespeare became inspired to write some of his most well known works, it indulges in quite a bit of historical mythmaking to explain how the story beats and ideas came into existence. Unfortunately, they all seem unbearably routine now. Shakespeare invented so many tropes that have filled storytelling for half a millennium and they manage to remain interesting in his original works, but here they are executed by a far less skilled writer and, given that it’s all fictionalized and therefore doesn’t really provide any insight into the real writer, it only serves to be a classic example of Oscar bait, making the voters think they saw something mildly profound in a period setting. At best, it’s moderately entertaining romance that fails to explore anything interesting about Shakespeare and at worst it feels like a direct rejection of the Bard’s writing abilities as it claims he could only be inspired by actually experiencing melodrama in his own life.