Cast: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Martin Clunes, Jim Carter, Joe Roberts, Steven Beard, Nicholas Le Prevost, Simon Day, David Curtiz, Nicholas Boulton, Martin Neeley, Tim McMullan, Steven O’Donnell, Antony Sher, Patrick Barlow, Sandra Reinton, Bridget McConnell, George Glen, Desmond McNamara, Barnaby Kay, Jill Baker, Paul Bigley, Jason Round, Rupert Farley, Adam Barker, Harry Gostelow, Alan Cody, Mark Williams, Gregor Truter, Amber Glossop, Robin Davies, Timothy Knightley
In London, in the Summer of 1593, Philip Henslowe (Rush) lacks money with which to pay his lender, Hugh Fennyman (Wilkinson), and instead offers Fennyman a partnership in an upcoming production of a comedy by William Shakespeare (Fiennes). Fennyman is assured that the play will be a great success, and he accepts. But Shakespeare is suffering from writer’s block. He has little but the title of the play, Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter, and a vague idea of the plot. Shakespeare benefits from the casual assistance of his playwright rival Christopher Marlowe (Everett), who suggests that Romeo is Italian, always in and out of love, until he meets Ethel. Prompted by Henslowe, Shakespeare begins to hold auditions. The role of Romeo goes to Thomas Kent, a boy that not only tests well for the part, but seems to be an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare’s work. But Thomas is really Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow), a young noblewoman who would love to act, but finds it impossible to do so as a woman, since it is forbidden by custom and law. Hence she disguises herself as the boy Thomas in order to get the part. Instructing Fennyman about the theatre business, Henslowe tells him that the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster, but that somehow it all turns out well. Curiosity leads Shakespeare on a riverboat chase, and eventually to the discovery of Thomas’ true identity. Viola is already a keen admirer of Shakespeare, and when she is revealed as a woman he is swiftly attracted to her. They become lovers, although they both realize they face insurmountable obstacles. Viola is a member of the nobility whose parents would not allow her to marry a commoner, and although long separated from his wife, Shakespeare is married. Shakespeare’s love affair inspires him, and he resumes writing. But his relationship with Viola, doomed as it is, changes the nature of the play, so that it begins to seem more a tragedy than a comedy. He changes the play’s title to Romeo and Juliet. Planning for Viola’s future, and unaware of Viola’s involvement with the theater or with Shakespeare, her father, Sir Robert de Lesseps (Le Prevost), arranges her betrothal to Lord Wessex (Firth). Preparations for the play advance at the Rose playhouse. Ned Alleyn (Affleck) agrees to take on the part of Mercutio and Shakespeare’s real-life romance increasingly influences the play. Viola is summoned to the palace of Queen Elizabeth (Dench). At court, Wessex announces his intention to marry Viola, much to her dismay and Shakespeare’s. Things get worse for the lovers when Tilney, Master of the Revels (Callow), a royal officer, finds out that a female has joined the cast of the coming play at the Rose theater and orders the Rose closed. Violet will not be able to play Romeo. Shakespeare, Henslowe and Fennyman are devastated. It seems that Romeo and Juliet will never be produced. But, as Henslowe had observed, in the theatre business insurmountable obstacles are somehow overcome. Screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard.