The film is set during the reign of Charles II, where he decrees that women will henceforth play women’s roles on the stage. Up until then they weren’t allowed. Young men played all the female characters. The edict is good news for seamstress Maria, who aspires to be an actress, but bad news for Ned Kynaston, a celebrated actor known for playing women’s roles, especially Desdemona in Othello.
I liked Stage Beauty. Roger Ebert says in his review that it lacks the “effortless charm” of Shakespeare in Love, but it has a poignant realism that is engaging. I agree with that. Also, Claire Danes is marvelous.