Oscar: Best Actress–Paltrow, Gwyneth in Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Gwyneth Paltrow won the 1998 Best Picture oscar in 1998 for the romantic comedy, Shakespeare in Love.

It was her first and (so far) only nomination.  Her major competitor that year was Cate Blanchett for playing the titular role in Elizabeth.

The 1998 Best Picture was the crowd-pleasing comedy “Shakespeare in Love,” directed by the British John Madden in a manner that shrewdly combines poetry, art, and entertainment. Screenwriter William Goldman has pointed out that no Hollywood movie has been such a valentine to the theater in its depiction of actors as romantic fools who can only be happy and alive when they’re on stage. Marc Norman’s idea provides the basis for a clever script, co-written with Tom Stoppard: the Bard experiences a writing block. The movie presents a portrait of the artist (played by Joseph Fiennes) as a young hack struggling with both creativity and affairs of the heart. For director Madden, “there was nothing remotely academic about the film, it’s all about first love.”

All the ingredients seemed to be right for the taste of the Academy voters. The film’s title has a cachet too. Who can resist Shakespeare Shakespeare signals the beginning of modern drama and pop culture as well. The 435-year-old writer is “hot” in Hollywood, as evident in numerous Shakespearean productions, from an MTV-influenced version of “Romeo and Juliet” to modern-costume renditions of “Richard III” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

David Denby complained in the New Yorker that “Shakespeare in Love” has bad jokes, silly sword fights, and a weak ending, yet overall the picture is charming. A celebration of populist entertainment, “Shakespeare in Love” was made with exuberant theatricality and wit. As a literary-erotic fantasy about the composition of the world’s most famous love story, the film serves up a romantic romp about the Bard and his radiant muse.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who won Best Actress for her irresistible Viola, gave a careermaking performance in a role that Julia Roberts had turned down in a previous reincarnation. It’s a great part, allowing Paltrow to be a boy and a girl, with moods swinging from passionate and sexy all the way to heartbroken. Geoffrey Rush won a supporting nomination as a theater owner shaken down by Elizabethan money men, and Dame Judi Dench won Supporting Oscar for her authoritative portrait of Queen Elizabeth, a small but significant part.

The result was massive boxoffice appeal and Oscar bonanza, leading with thirteen nominations, and winning Best Picture. The intelligent characters and colorful sets and costumes certainly help, but the real star of the picture is the feverish wordplay and whimsical plot by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, who won an Oscar. Norman is credited with the story, but it is Stoppard who mixes aspects of philosophy and literature, fact and fancy, with wit and derring do.