London,1593. Will Shakespeare (Fiennes) has lost his muse, and the prospects for his latest commission, 'Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter,' look troubled. Enter Viola Lesseps (Paltrow), who auditions for the still unwritten play and captures both the lead role and its author. John Madden's remarkably busy film - which took seven Oscars - is a far shout from the drawing-room period drama of old. It combines an interest in British regal heritage and a swift, populist, plainspoken perspective free of traditional deference. Again, too, it's at least as informed by present-day British theatre and TV as by classical literature, as a cast ranging from Dame Judi to two members of The Fast Show indicates. The film sports its superficiality with good humour, and the cast deserve much of the credit: Fiennes is at last truly convincing; Paltrow and Ben Affleck (as the company's star player) hold their own; and the rest of the ensemble gel seamlessly. Finally, though, it's Tom Stoppard's witty, intelligent script which proves so satisfying, effortlessly combining and recasting period comedy, creative biopic, Romeo and Juliet adaptation, and his own brand of clever pun and play.