I can't find any fault with Claire Danes as the ambitious Maria, Kynaston's ambitious dresser, who steals his gowns, props, role and eventual place on stage to become the first authorized actress. Her fresh natural beauty is a great contrast to the artificial image created by Kynaston and one can see why playgoers might have appreciated it, were it not that in reality, on stage in those days, she would have been just as covered in harsh makeup as he was.
The plot takes great liberty with historical events. King Charles did indeed permit women on stage, but that was eight years before meeting Nell Gwynne, whom the film plays as a major instigator of the King's new edict.
The plot deals sensitively with the upheaval in the lives of Ned, who's become a has-been, and Maria, who's become a star while doubting her actual worthiness. That they deal with this in part by basically inventing method acting 350 years before its time is another one of the fantasies, although the final "Othello" death scene is in fact electifying.
A great supporting performance was given by Rupert Everett as King James. He manages to make stalking the palace halls in long curly wig and high ribboned shoes, preceded by his pack of fluffy spaniels, formidable and kingly. Other stong supporting performances by Richard Griffiths ("Uncle Vernon Dursley" in the Harry Potter movies) as the spiteful Sir Charles Sedley, Zoe Tapper very sprightly as Nell Gwynne, and Fenella Woolgar ("Bright Young Things") and Alice Eve as a pair of spoiled and ignoble young noblewomen.
The film was technically generally very good, and shows research into the acting conventions of the time. Glitches were small--the density and color of character's makeup varies from scene to scene in the same sequence more than differences in lighting account for, which I found disappointing, but shruggable.
Includes some minor nudity, and a very long, mostly suggestive, and rather funny sex scene in which Maria "makes a man" of Ned. Recommended for fans of the theatre who are not purists.