Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 06:20 GMT

John Madden: Battling with Shakespeare

John Madden: Making Shakespeare was like fighting a battle

British director John Madden is hot property in Hollywood.

Oscars '99
Never more so than now, having scooped the hotly-tipped Saving Private Ryan for the best picture Oscar with the phenomenally successful Shakespeare in Love.

This has built on his earlier successes with the film classics Mrs Brown (1997) and Ethan Frome (1993).

In an interview with BBC World's HARDtalk, Madden said that although Shakespeare in Love was a "dream project" he admitted it was a difficult film to make.

"It was murder in my head"
"It was like being out on a battlefield. It felt as if we could fail all the time."

"Comedies are notoriously difficult and this was more difficult than most because of the demands of the language, style never mind the complexity of the film and the number of stories it was telling".

[ image: Gwyneth Paltrow:
Gwyneth Paltrow: "passionate" about the script
Despite the cinematic challenges of what was only the fourth feature film he had ever directed, Madden said he felt inspired by Tom Stoppard's script.

"We all knew we were working on something wonderful and praying we were doing something right."

Not surprisingly Madden put much of the film's success down to its star-studded cast.

He described British theatre legend Dame Judi Dench, awarded best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the film, as "extraordinarily perfect", "a huge presence in the film" and an "unstoppable actress".

[ image: Joseph Fiennes plays the struggling young playwright]
Joseph Fiennes plays the struggling young playwright
Madden said he particularly enjoyed working with the actors who play the film's two central characters, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes.

"These parts were waiting for Gwyneth and Joseph," he said.

Fiennes's "mercurial intelligence" and "comic lightness of touch" meant he managed the role "spectacularly... no-one else came anywhere near".

Watch Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love
Madden enthused that Gwyneth Paltrow was perfect for the part of Viola. He said she was so passionate about the script that she took the part for much less money than she would normally have been paid.

From his early roots in the theatre Madden developed as a director in the British independent film industry, perfecting his craft and in his own words "making films for nothing".

[ image: Judi Dench and Billy Connolly starred in Mrs Brown]
Judi Dench and Billy Connolly starred in Mrs Brown
After teaching acting and play writing at Yale and directing TV dramas such as Inspector Morse, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes and Prime Suspect 4, he graduated to feature films - most famously Mrs Brown.

Although his other work has been very well-received, the enormous success of Shakespeare in Love, nominated for 13 Oscars, is new to Madden.

"It's a big change. I've been used to making films in a certain way for a small incredibly intelligent people who think they're wonderful but not necessarily meeting with the kind of large, broad acceptance that the last two films have met".

"I adore this movie"
Although he admitted that the success is "wonderful", "liberating" and "enabling", his said his feet are still firmly on the ground.

"I adore this movie I'm more proud of it than anything I can ever imagine doing again but I just want to keep looking forward.

"The work is the important thing, not being seduced into an endless celebration of something that is after all a mystery, the way it came together so gloriously."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Relevant Stories

09 Mar 99 | Entertainment
Kingsley: The craft of acting

02 Feb 99 | Entertainment
In love with Shakespeare

Internet Links

Shakespeare in Love

John Madden Filmography

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.