Stage Beauty [2004]

Edward "Ned" Knyaston (Billy Crudup) is a beautiful man, and as an actor in 17th-century London that means he's quite popular portraying women, since females are forbidden to tread the boards. His mischievous air of entitlement, unfortunately, soon sets in motion a chain of events that will see King Charles II (Rupert Everett) lifting the ban on actresses, allowing Ned's devoted dresser, Maria (Claire Danes), to become the city's reigning theatrical diva. Director Richard Eyre (Iris) is still best known for his stage work, and it shows: Stage Beauty is rich in character and attention to detail, yet it doesn't have a popcorn-and-soda pop ease. Jeffrey Hatcher's well-observed script, based on his own play, romps a little self-consciously in Eyre's hands--you can tell it would like to be Shakespeare in Love if it could only relax. The gorgeous Crudup and dewy Danes don't quite click here, but the supporting cast is having a good time going way over-the-top, so if you're hungry for an elaborate historical confection there's enough here to satisfy your taste buds. --Steve Wiecking

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