Stage Beauty (15)
Time Out saysThe screen adaptation of Jeffrey Hatcher’s play ‘Compleat Female Stage Beauty’ takes many a historical liberty in yoking together the real-life figures of Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), one of the last men to tread the boards in drag before Charles II (Rupert Everett) outlawed theatrical gender-bending, and Mrs Margaret Hughes (Claire Danes), one of the first women to play a woman’s role on the Restoration stage. Here, young Maria begins as the pretty boy star’s adoring, somewhat covetous dresser until their fortunes swiftly reverse, though without unduly hindering a cross-dressing backstage romance in the collapsed vein of ‘Shakespeare in Love’ as Ned slowly taps the latent man within. ‘Stage Beauty’ tries to raise a flickering candle to John Madden’s standard-bearer, even borrowing a few of its supporting players, including Everett and Tom Wilkinson, as a beleaguered actor-impresario.
Director Eyre indulges all manner of actorly foo-faw and thickly sliced exposition, as when a seedy theatre manager paws a nearby breast and growls, ‘It’s illegal to have these onstage’. Such straight-talking exigency only lays groundwork for ‘bawdy’ panto distractions like Chas’s bosomy Cockney mistress Nell Gwyn (Zoë Tapper) and Richard Griffiths’ lecherous powdered dandy, while Ben Chaplin (as Ned’s lover, the Duke of Buckingham) is conscripted to deliver one of the most soul-destroying lines of shite poetic dialogue in the history of the heritage drama. Most frustrating, ‘Stage Beauty’ fumbles XX/XY politics at every turn, from Maria and Nell’s anachronistic girl power outbursts to the bizarrely retrograde Kynaston character. Surely it can’t come as news to the filmmakers that a distinction exists between gender and sexuality?