Who knew that the guy whose big ol' mug is smiling on the box of all those old football video games could also direct movies? Not us.
Oh, what's that? That's a different John Madden? Okay, starting over.
John Madden the film director is also an old white guy, but he never directed any football movies. He's most well known for Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), and, by the time you read this, Marigold 3: Judi Dench Wants a New House (TBA). Madden has worked with Dame Judi a lot over the years, but he only needed a $2,000 peacock-feather budget on one of them: Shakespeare In Love, Or: Dang, Judi Dench, Your Costumes Are Amazing.
Madden was drawn to Shakespeare in Love's classic setting with a modern-day sensibility, and he liked its "sense of fun" and humor. Those seem to be two of his trademarks, making him a good fit for the film.
Marc and Tom are an interesting duo. Tom Stoppard had experience fiddling with the Bard from his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a critically acclaimed and existentialist play about two minor characters from Hamlet. Marc Norman wrote the notorious flop Cutthroat Island, the biggest money-loser in Hollywood history.
How, exactly, did this odd couple team up?
Well, it all started with Marc Norman's son. Norman's son had an idea: a movie about young Shakespeare in the theatre (source).
And… that was it.
Nice try, son.
But dad loved the idea (as dads are required to do) and he developed a script and networked his way to Universal Pictures, who hired Stoppard for his Shakespearean expertise. He tinkered around with the story, even adding the Christopher Marlowe character, and Viola… er, voila! Shakespeare in Love was born.
This little bit of backstory proves that you can take any idea and run with it. Maybe that idea you have about baby Meryl Streep in pre-school will one day win a record-number of Academy Awards (including one for Meryl Streep, playing baby Meryl's mother).
The Bedford Falls Company is the Mr. Fennyman of Shakespeare In Love. They're the producers, or as Fennyman calls himself, "the money."
They're known for Academy Award-winning films with big-name talent, like Legends of the Fall (1994) with former Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow Brad Pitt, and Traffic (2000), with too many stars in its cast to list. They also produced family dramas for TV, like thirtysomething and Once and Again.
The film was distributed by Miramax, making studio head Harvey Weinstein the equivalent of the guy who hangs fliers advertising Romeo and Juliet. And Weinstein passed out a ton of fliers.
Shakespeare in Love cemented Miramax's reputation as being the premiere Oscar-bait studio in Hollywood. Shakespeare's Best Picture win at the Oscars in 1999 is considered by many as the biggest upset in Oscar history, and some insiders speculated the result was because of campaigning by Weinstein, not the quality of the film. In fact, it took home 7 Oscars in total—Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Musical or Comedy Score (source).
Whatever the reason, the truth is this: like Will and Viola, all the parts of this movie worked together to create something that many people found magical, like Shakespeare's plays themselves.
Shakespeare in Love goes for that authentic 16th Century feel. Clothes that look like they haven't been washed in weeks. Dusty streets. Chickens. Lanterns. Horses and carriages. No fancy special effects needed—although Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow are so pretty, they're special effects themselves.
The filmmakers used Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire for the estate of Viola de Lesseps, and they rebuilt the Rose from scratch for one of the film's most iconic sets. The actual sets transport you to the Elizabethan theatre, as if you're there.
And one day, you may get to go there without tearing a hole in the space-time continuum. After filming, the producers gave the Rose—the whole thing!—to Dame Judi Dench. Did they wrap it and put a bow on it?
The plan was to bring back the authentic theatre of Shakespeare's time, and stage productions there for the public, but as of 2009, it doesn't seem like anything has been done with it. She must have a really big basement to store the thing. (Source); (Source)
Stephen Warbeck is the King Composer of British dramas.
He got his start on the Helen Mirren drama Prime Suspect. Shakespeare in Love is a decidedly lighter fare, with its frothy duels as opposed to hard-hitting police interrogations. Because this is a romantic comedy, and not a Shakespearean tragedy, Warbeck's light-hearted score helps keep the tone bright. No one is going to lose a hand and no blood-spraying arteries will be severed in these sword-fights.
Warbeck won an Academy Award for his score, and he later worked again with director John Madden and Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2005 math drama Proof.
Warbeck + Madden = a winning combination.
Not being canon or all that historically accurate, Shakespeare in Love hasn't quite found a place in the Shakespeare festivals all over the world. (There is one for every state of the U.S., because when you think "Idaho" you think of potatoes and… Shakespeare?
However the film, which almost broke the record for most Academy Award nominations, was popular then, and still remains memorable today. In 2014, a stage version of the film hit London. It bears the original title of Shakespeare in Love: The Play, making this already meta movie even more meta (mega-meta?). A movie about a man writing a play becomes a play about a man writing a play based on a movie. If that doesn't make your head hurt, you should go see it.
Bonus: Disney latched onto it, and will likely be bringing it to a theatre near you.