Claire Danes Changes History In Underseen Drama With A Superhero Icon, Get Now Without Netflix

By Nina Phillips | Updated

While now, characters in theater are played by both genders, that wasn’t always the case. Stage Beauty, starring Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet) and Billy Crudup (Watchmen), delves into the world of the stage back when only men were allowed to act. Not only does it delve into an important piece of acting history, but the film explores gender roles and the struggles that come with finding out who you really are.

Maria Hughes And Ned Kynaston

Stage Beauty 2004

Stage Beauty is a story about a woman named Maria Hughes (Claire Danes) fighting for the chance to be in theater. During this time, women were banned from acting on stage, and all roles were played by men. She is currently as close as she can get to the stage, as a dresser for a male actor famous for his female roles named Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup).

However, in her free time, she acts in small taverns. One day, she gets noticed by some powerful people and ends up supported by King Charles II (Rupert Everett) to act on stage. She ends up replacing Ned, and the two struggle to adapt to the changing theater world and their place in it.

Challenges Gender Norms

Stage Beauty 2004

While the main premise of Stage Beauty is centered around women fighting for the chance to play on stage, the film also dives heavily into gender roles and how the sexes interpret each other. For example, when Maria starts acting on stage, she mentions to Ned that his acting has always bothered her, especially as Desdemona.

This is because he interprets women as simple and weak, and doesn’t take the time to really figure out their reasoning. As Desdemona, when he is killed, he never fights back, just letting death take him.

Maria is a character who embraces her femininity and knows her strengths and roles in life. It’s a stark contrast to Ned, who has always felt like a woman on stage, but never knew who he really was when the curtains closed. When Maria tells him that his women on stage are weak and shallow, it sends him even further adrift.

Based On A Famous Stage Play

Stage Beauty 2004

Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) is the director of Stage Beauty and the screenplay was written by Jeffery Hatcher (Mr. Holmes). Stage Beauty is based on a stage play called Compleat Female Stage Beauty, also written by Jeffery Hatcher. The play was inspired by and features references to Edward Kynaston, a 17th-century actor described in detail in Samuel Pepys’ diary.

Creative Liberties Were Taken

Stage Beauty 2004

Stage Beauty is also loosely based on the first English actress in theater. Though the woman’s name is not known, it is believed her first role was Desdemona in Othello, a play by Shakespeare. Of course, there were many liberties taken, such as naturalistic acting and the timeline when she met King Charles II.

Stream Stage Beauty Today

Stage Beauty 2004


Somewhat positive reviews met Stage Beauty upon its release. While critics are a little harsh, with a 64 percent average score, audience members enjoyed the film a fair amount more. They gave the film an average score of 78 percent.

While Stage Beauty isn’t on many standard streaming services, it is available to watch for free on The Roku Channel. For anyone interested in theater, including what goes on behind the scenes and some of the history, this film is a must-watch.