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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 59:22)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
    English, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired
  • Dolby Digital trailer
  • DTS trailer

Shakespeare in Love (Superbit)

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 119 mins . M15+ . PAL


Shakespeare in Love swept up the Academy Awards in 1999 with a stunning 13 nominations, seven of which were won. At times you feel as if you’re watching a documentary on this great poet’s life, but the irony and humour delivered is often through the coincidental untruths of the “facts” presented. But hey, it doesn’t claim to be true-to-life, so really take it for what it is, and that is an enjoyable romance story with a sly twist.

It’s part Twelfth Night, but it’s also part Romeo and Juliet, so just make it What You Will*, as this film draws in on major aspects and themes of these two highly renowned Shakespearean plays. Historically, Romeo and Juliet was written well before Twelfth Night, yet Shakespeare in Love has them as successive plays, but Romeo and Juliet was written in approximately 1594, about seven years before Twelfth Night in 1601. But if Shakespeare in Love is historically accurate then the coincidental connectivity that makes this film uniquely appealing and cyclically complete would instantaneously be lost.

From Twelfth Night we have the themes of romance, mistaken identity, karma and a comedy-of-errors situation, and from Romeo and Juliet we have the romance theme, some murderous values (too from Hamlet and Macbeth) as well as the socio-economical issues brought up with the “two households, both alike in dignity...”. This quote is just the family theme in a nutshell, but not as explicit as two well-off families. Viola’s family is the well-off type, very dignified in their ways, but Shakespeare is just as well respected, however for his writing talent rather than money.

The links between Shakespearean plays and Shakespeare in Love are so numerous that discussing them here will not only put everyone to sleep, but also give your humble narrator a rather bad case of RSI. Plus, that way it means that you have the chance to make your own connections rather than reading them here. But anyway, no more rambling... So on with the plot...

Now we have a huge all-star cast on-deck for Shakespeare in Love so we’ll go through the characters before the synopsis starts. In the male lead of Will Shakespeare is Joseph Fiennes, with the female (?) lead, Viola (ironically the lead in Twelfth Night), played by Gwyneth Paltrow. In the supporting cast we have Imelda Staunton as Viola’s nurse, Colin Firth as Viola’s lord (and to-be husband), Dame Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe and Martin Clunes as competing playhouse owner Richard Burbage, among others. This cast is simply top-notch (save for Ms. Paltrow’s shocking English accent) and just comes to life with deep characters and fantastic performances.

So Will Shakespeare’s life is at its last tether, and things just couldn’t get any worse. Alas, he’s lost his ability to write. So he must find his muse in order to get his writing ability back and finish his most recent play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter, which is already meant to be finished. At the auditions for this play he meets a strapping young actor named Thomas Kent who does a runner before the end of the audition, causing Will to follow after him. He soon discovers though that he lives with Viola De Lesseps, whom he meets on his search for Mr. Kent. But Thomas Kent isn’t who he appears to be, neither is Viola for that matter, yet Will still falls for the beautiful Viola. So Viola, sorry, Thomas, gets the lead of Romeo in the play, and rehearsals begin. There’s some romance between Viola and Will, and some controversial discoveries, not to mention a splash of “murder most foul” (proven an accident, but this quote from Hamlet is so fitting), mistaken identities, some devilishly deserved bad karma as well as the always popular comedy of errors. Simply put this film is clever, unique, touching and just plain entertaining, showcasing amazing cinematography, a powerfully soaring score, a top cast and fantastic costume and set designs.

*From above, Note, for those who quite aren’t up to speed with their Shakespearean, What You Will is another name for Twelfth Night. See, you learn something new every day!


The anamorphically-enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen aspect captures the original theatrical ratio of the film with magnificence. So Columbia Tristar advertise double the bitrate for Superbit, eh? OK, so let’s get mum’s original Shakespeare in Love DVD out and compare it with this. The Superbit disc has a bitrate maximum around the 9Mbps mark, which by Columbia Tristar’s words would leave the standard bitrate maximum of around 4.5Mbps. But no, the original Shakespeare In Love DVD has a maximum around the 7Mbps mark. Now maths just happens to be a strong point but any dummy can see that seven doubled is not nine. So we have a slightly larger video file, two new audio tracks and no features. Hmm that seems fair, right? Well it would if the video and audio were faultless, but alas, they’re not.

The downside to Shakespeare in Love is the sheer complexity of the costumes and sets. And it even picked up 'Best Costume Design' and 'Best Art Direction' in the 1999 Academy Awards to prove this point. But the sheer beauty of these elements is best seen in the movie theatre with an optical projector and no digital video in sight. The intricate details of the Queen’s elaborate and stunning costumes get lost in the minuteness of the television screen. But hey, it’s not that bad, everything still looks amazing, but boy it looked better on the big screen.

Some minor aliasing and digital noise reduction can be seen during some slow panning shots within the complexly built theatres. It’s not terribly distracting, but it is a pity to see these effects on a Superbit disc. Film artefacts are another slight flaw, especially during the opening portions of the film where black and white specks flick past. They are quite clear during the Universal tag, and you would have thought that these would have been the easiest to clean off.

Colours are extreme and just bring to life the Elizabethan world created on screen. Blacks are deep with excellent shadow definition, and there are no signs of low level noise or posterisation. Simply put, Shakespeare in Love’s Superbit transfer is an absolute delight to watch.


Two soundtracks have been included (as expected), both in English, one DTS and one Dolby Digital. As to which to choose, that’s a tough one because they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Similar between both is the broad use of a 5.1 soundstage, something not fully utilised in films of this genre. Surround activity is ambient and energetic, providing a real depth to the soundstage, and the front channel separation is clear and well defined. The subwoofer gets a slight workout during the score and particular effects, but subtly adds to the tone of things rather than brutally attacking the soundstage. Both tracks have clear audio, with little synch problems, but during the 30–40 minute mark some lines seemed a little delayed.

But the differences are what are more important.

The DTS track features solid dialogue with a heavy bass depth to it. The Dolby Digital track, however, lacks the depth in dialogue, so for the dialogue debate, go for the DTS.

Considering the music, the Dolby Digital track sounds full and rich, capturing the true fidelity of the Academy-Award winning score by Stephen Warbeck. The DTS, however, sounds tinny and over-compressed, losing a lot of fidelity and class. Take a look at the finale of Romeo and Juliet within Shakespeare in Love when the orchestra soars up above everything. Flicking between the two tracks here will easily demonstrate the differences. So for music, go for Dolby Digital.

This is a really tough one to decide upon, so it’s best left up to you. If you prefer bassy dialogue and music comes second, then go for DTS. But if you want the full effect of the music, with dialogue that is lacking some depth, go for Dolby Digital. Both are fantastic tracks with two extreme differences boldly standing them apart.


This is where Superbit is Supershit. For extras we get the boring DTS trailer telling us that “this theatre” is equipped with DTS, as well as the boring full frame Dolby City trailer. And that’s it. Come on, 2.35:1 trailers do exist – what do you see before the film when you go out to the movies?


Who wants to pay $40 for a disc they may already have (with extra features) or for a disc that they want losing the stack of features provided on the original release? Buggered if this reviewer knows, but this is a mighty fine transfer, although just not fine enough given the prestigious Superbit tag. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it looks the same, it sounds the same, the video bitrate is nearly the same, but the extras are missing? Sound fair? I didn’t think so either.

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      And I quote...
    "The only thing stopping the technical beauty of Superbit is the quality of your own entertainment equipment."
    - Martin Friedel
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Philips DVD 736K
    • TV:
          TEAC EU68-ST
    • Receiver:
          Sony HT-SL5
    • Speakers:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Centre Speaker:
          Sony SS-CNP2
    • Surrounds:
          Sony SS-MSP2
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony SA-WMSP3
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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