She was the first of her kind. He was the last of his.
Running Time: 110 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, United States
The theatre-goers of the 17th Century loved a good ladyboy. They just couldnt get enough of them. In fact, on-stage cross-dressing was so popular back then that it was actually the law in Britain that only men could play women in public productions. Its a topsy-turvy world, and no mistaking.
It was against this background of legally-enforced men-in-tights that Ned Kynaston became one of the most revered thesps of the era. He was the Lily Savage or RuPaul of his day, except that he did serious stuff like Shakespeare, and could count Samuel Pepys as a fan to boot. But what happened when King Charles II got bored of all these trannies hugging the limelight and decided to let the girlies have a go? The countrys top stars including poor old Ned found themselves out of work, thats what.
This ambitious project by Iris director Richard Eyre attempts to tell that very tale, pitching Billy Crudup as the bisexual Kynaston and Claire Danes as Maria, the young upstart whos after both his heart and his job.
Its an interesting enough story, but its also one that Eyre and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (who also wrote the original play) seem to struggle to squeeze into what youd think is an ample 110 minute running time. The liberally-sprinkled instances of comic relief work well (particularly from Rupert Everett, whos scenes as the King are amongst the most entertaining), but I had the constant nagging feeling that here was a period of English stage history not quite being done justice. The casting of Danes and Crudup is also irksome, not only because theyre both American and make no real effort to hide their accents, but because Crudups facial features dont really fit the role (his jawline and profile are far too masculine to pass as a man who was supposedly regarded by all and sundry as the most beautiful in the industry).
But, for all its faults, Stage Beauty is a professionally-made piece of work (Robert De Niro is one of the producers, in case anyones interested), and I never found it less than watchable. Its just a pity it lacks the spark, sense of significance and right choice of lead players to make any more of an impact.
It's Got: Powdered wigs, beauty spots, and a forced flashing of the flesh from Ms Danes.
It Needs: A cameo appearance from Elton John, surely! Some of those costumes would suit him right down to the ground.
Alternatives:Any of the 'Pokemon' or 'Digimon' movies., Shakespeare in Love
This passable costume drama is mainly mouth and quite literally no trousers.