How it is that I missed this movie, which was released in 2004, until now is beyond me. Where on Earth was I? I saw a little bit of it the other day on Showtime and set my DVR to tape the next playing of it later that day because it looked interesting and I wanted to see it from the beginning... I thought, "Claire Danes in a period piece... It'll either be awful or tolerably good."
Well, wrong was I. It was wonderful! I may be far too generous in my praise, but Claire has out-done herself in this I think (I might actually forgive her for her part in ruining "Romeo & Juliet" for a certain portion of my generation who will forever prefer it over Zeffirelli's beyond all good taste).
Also Billie Crudup, whom you might have seen as "Will Bloom" in "Big Fish" or "Russell Hammond" in "Almost Famous," is delightfully good in "Stage Beauty."
They star as "Maria" (pronounced like Mariah Carey's name) aka "Mrs. Hughes" and "Edward 'Ned' Kynaston," 17th century actors on the English stage during the early reign of Charles II. Old Charlie is being played by the incomparable Rupert Everett, by the way... Richard Griffiths, "Uncle Vernon Dursley" from the Harry Potter series, is also in it.
I have seen it compared to "Shakespeare in Love" on amazon.com... Personally, I find "Stage Beauty" much more believable, since "Shakespeare in Love" is *obviously* fictional for a number of reasons I won't go into here. "Shakespeare in Love," though I enjoyed it, never surprised me. "Stage Beauty" surprised me more than once and in different ways. As "'Nell' Gwynn" said, we want surprises, "but we don't want to know they're coming." They do deal with the same topic, women acting on a public stage in a time period and place where such a thing was outlawed. But they are set in completely different time periods, and I think, though I am not sure, that "Stage Beauty" does a better job in recreating the time in an accurate and uncompromised way. I'd research it to make sure, but I'm afraid I'll ruin it for myself if they got things completely wrong. In any case, I *highly* recommend checking it out.