""Stage Beauty" opens in a London weary of Puritan dreariness. The monarchy has been restored, and Charles II is a fun-loving king whose mistress, Nell Gwynn, whispers mischief in his ear. They take a lively interest in the theater. Women are not allowed to perform on the stage, so all the women's roles are played by men -- chief among them Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup), who Samuel Pepys described in his diary as the most beautiful woman on the London stage. "
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"Being a guy, Billy Crudup can't qualify as Best Actress, but he does a hell of a job playing the "most beautiful woman on the London stage." In the seventeenth century, women were banned from acting. Men played all the women's roles, and nobody did it better than Ned Kynaston (Crudup). His dying Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello brought down the house. Just ask Margaret Hughes (Claire Danes), Ned's dresser, who yearns for the guy until she catches him going at it with the Duke of Buckingham (Ben Chaplin). But when King Charles II (Rupert Everett is a hoot and a half) rules that women can now strut onstage, Margaret is suddenly a and Ned must struggle to play men. Expertly directed by Richard Eyre (Iris) from Jeffrey Hatcher's play, the film is bawdy fun. But Crudup pierces the heart in an audition that has Ned trying to squelch his feminine side. When Ned and Margaret co-star in Othello — Crudup and Danes pair up beautifully — the gender role-playing puts spine in this period piece that is vital to the here and now. "