Stage Beauty, is a film from 2004 which starred Claire Danes as the first actress, Margaret Hughes, and Billy Crudup, as Ned Kynaston. The film is based on the play, “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” by Jeffrey Hatcher.
Ned Kynaston is a shining star of Restoration-era drama, and his over-feminine portrayal of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello is popular. He relishes his female roles, and he seems to be a woman in a man’s body. He meets affluent fans backstage dressed as his character:
Before the 1660s, men played women’s parts in plays, and women wanted to act (this problem was part of the storyline of Shakespeare in Love). Unfortunately, actors had a reputation for being wanton and early actresses did not have the same kind of power that Hollywood actors have now. Maria is a dresser to popular stage “female” Ned and she wishes to be an actor.
Enter King Charles II, played by Rupert Everett, who decrees that women are allowed to play female roles on stage, but men are not allowed to play female roles, only male roles.
This sends Ned Kynaston into great confusion about his identity, as a man, and as an actor.
Whilst he spirals into a pitiable state of dispair, working in bawdy, cheap theatres like a spectacle, Maria (who has now adopted the name of Margaret) rises to become a popular leading lady of the stage.
Will they be able to be good actors – she as one of the first actresses, and he, in male roles? Here, Ned teaches Margaret some feminine gestures, as he helps her become a better actress.
This film, whilst a fun romp through Restoration era playhouses, was a little strange at times, in particular the relationship between the Ned and Margaret. Did he love her? Did he think he was a woman and therefore, not sexually attracted to her as he was with male courtiers? Do the characters end up together? I must say, I had a lot of questions by the time the film ended.
In real life, Ned seemed to transition from female to male roles with little trouble, and Margaret (Peg) was successful as an actress and nabbed Sexy Stuart Prince Rupert of the Rhine as her lover, with whom she had a daughter, Ruperta.
The film was shot at several locations, but I wonder if you can guess where these scenes were shot:
That’s right, it was filmed at Hampton Court Palace, in the Baroque half. The first photo is from King William III’s orangery, and the second photo is the staircase to Queen Mary II’s apartments. Technically, these rooms hadn’t even been built when Charles II was alive (as they were made during the reign of William and Mary 1689-1702) but, who cares? It made a fantastic setting for these scenes.
Whether they are supposed to be in love or not (I can’t really say) but Crudup and Danes had a strong on-screen chemistry, which was great. Crudup, who I had previously seen as a playboy tough guy in Inventing the Abbots plays a completely different, feminine and believable Kynaston. Danes was funny in a scene where she has to act badly, and coming from her (who has immense acting talent) it was funny to see her act as though she was struggling.
All in all, a great film to see if you love the Seventeenth century!