Based loosely on the life of 17th century actor Edward Kynaston, Stage Beauty is an enjoyably bawdy romantic comedy that's more theatrical than an Elton John party, and only slightly less camp. Shakespeare In Love is the obvious comparison, but unlike the Gwyneth Paltrow/Joseph Fiennes pic, the romance taking centre stage here never convinces. Still, Billy Crudup excels as the female impersonator who finds his illustrious acting career under threat when women are allowed to appear on the stage.
Luvvie In Shakespeare would be an apter title for Richard Eyre's Brit pic, which assembles half the members of Equity to play alongside imported Hollywood stars Crudup (Big Fish) and Claire Danes (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines). The action takes place in the 1660s, a time of great change on the English stage. Ned Kynaston (Crudup) and his Desdemona is the talk of the town, but he's about to be bitten by a viper in his (padded) bosom. His dresser, Maria (Danes), harbours thesping ambitions of her own, and is secretly living out her fantasy...
"A THING OF RIBALD BEAUTY"
When it's concentrating on delivering laughs, Stage Beauty is indeed a thing of ribald beauty. Richard Griffiths commits grand larceny as a powdered knight ("A scuff, sir, is a terrible thing"), and Crudup provides far tastier mince than your local butcher. Almost as funny - and far more surprising - is Rupert Everett's foppish Charles II: it's as if Everett misheard his agent and turned up ready to play the modern-day Prince Charles.
The film's problems start when Nell Gwyn (Zoe Tapper) arrives; her shrill Cockney sparrow would be over the top in the Albert Square Christmas panto. Danes also suffers from a part that demands little of her other than to look alternately stage-struck and frustrated. By the end, you'll know exactly how she feels.