The boundary between an actor’s public and private identity, the importance of an artist’s uniqueness, and the superiority of emotional authenticity over perfectly calibrated artifice in drama all swirl about Richard Eyre’s uneven period drama Stage Beauty. Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is a theatrical star in 1600 England famous for his mannered performance as Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello, yet his career is jeopardized when King Charles II (Rupert Everett) decrees, in a groundbreaking reversal of decades-old policy, that women should henceforth be the only people allowed to perform female roles on the stage. What’s a disgraced, disenfranchised drag queen to do? In Kynaston’s case, he pouts, spits venom at his admiring assistant Maria (Claire Danes) – whose illegal performance as Desdemona makes her a star and functions as the catalyst for the theater’s gender revolution – become a lowly strip-tease artist, and then begin a romance with Maria. Crudup imbues his cross-dressing role with both brassy feminine flair and tender melancholy. Unfortunately, Danes, as usual, overplays her character’s every emotion, and the film falls apart shortly after Crudup and Danes share an unintentionally hilarious bedroom romp in which the sexually ambiguous Kynaston explains which positions are “male” and “female” during hetero- and homosexual trysts.