A movie Steven Spielberg would like to forget. For the Hollywood Foreign Press, it wasn’t a problem. Both of the year’s most lauded films - Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Miramax’s period comedy- were honored separately. But when the Academy pitted them against each other for best picture, Shakespeare won in what was then the biggest upset in Oscar history. Regardless, Shakespeare in Love was a popular choice among HFPA members. It also won Golden Globes for Best Actress and Best Screenplay.
The film had a long, checkered history with no less than Julia Roberts originally attached. She would only do the film if Daniel Day-Lewis accepted the role of Shakespeare. When he said no, it went into turnaround. Years later Harvey Weinstein stepped in, and the film went into production. No less than five producers accepted the Oscar that year including Edward Zwick, who initiated the project in 1981 and intended to direct until he was replaced by John Madden. The Academy later changed their rules limiting the number of producers who can claim title on a film.
The screenplay was the brainchild of Marc Norman but on Weinstein’s suggestion, England’s esteemed playwright Tom Stoppard was hired to do a rewrite, and they shared original screenplay credit. The film was well received by the critics and a popular hit, but at the box office, it paled next to Saving Private Ryan, which took in half a billion dollars worldwide. Thanks to its Golden Globe and Oscar recognition, the film ended up grossing almost $300 million worldwide, no small achievement considering it cost only $25 million.
The cast included many of England’s best actors including Geoffrey Rush. Colin Firth and Judi Dench, who won an Oscar for her eight-minute appearance. Ironically this was a year when the Oscars and the Golden Globes were completely out of sync. Shakespeare in Love and Gwyneth Paltrow were both victorious but the other categories didn’t fare as well. For the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Best Actor was comedian Jim Carrey for The Truman Show; the Academy chose another comedian, Italian actor Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful. The Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor was Ed Harris for The Truman Show; the Academy went with James Coburn for Affliction. For Best Supporting Actress the HFPA chose Lynn Redgrave for Gods and Monsters, the Academy preferred the aforementioned Judi Dench.
The other Musical or Comedy nominees were: For Best Film: Bulworth, The Mask of Zorro, Patch Adams, Still Crazy and There’s Something About Mary. For Best Actor, Michael Caine (the winner) for Little Voice, Antonio Banderas for The Mask of Zorro, Warren Beatty for Bulworth, John Travolta for Primary Colors, and Robin Williams for Patch Adams. For best actress, Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, Jane Horrocks in Little Voice, Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.
Ironically there was no recognition for Benigni, not even a foreign film nomination for his Oscar winner, Life Is Beautiful.