The Rivals

Release Date: No Release Date at this Time

She has a nice personality, though.

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French-born Sarah Bernhardt was world renowned as the leading actress of her day. She ruled the stage, first in France, then England, then throughout Europe and the rest of the world, through the last half of the 19th and into the 20th century. Her fame has endured to this day; even amongst those who have no interest in acting whatsoever, the name Sarah Bernhardt creates a glimmer of recognition. Bernhardt played over 100 roles over her lengthy career, nearly 40 of which she created. Near the end of her stage career, she even pioneered what is known in opera as a trousers role, where a woman plays a man's part. Bernhardt had her final great successes in this area. In addition to being a famous actress, she also became known as a proficient theatre company owner, taking many a European house to success, largely by employing her great talent and fame on their stages. Bernhardt even had a brief career in cinema, starring in a number silent films in the early days of Hollywood.

Eleonora Duse is less well known now, but was nearly as celebrated as Bernhardt in the late 19th century. Of Italian descent, Duse first gained acclaim on the Italian stage; after conquering theatre in her homeland, she expanded to the rest of Europe and America. Though her career was not as lengthy as Bernhardt's, in some circles she was considered the superior actress, and was largely renowned in her day for eschewing the use of stage make-up, preferring a more natural look. Duse also saw the dawn of Hollywood, but as in the theatrical arena, saw little success, making only one film to Bernhardt's 12.

Such is the background behind The Rivals, which sets out to tell the tale of these two acclaimed 19th century actresses. The film proposes that the two actresses not only competed for the public's acclaim and attention on the stage, but in their private lives as well. The storyline for the film posits such a head-to-head competition between the legendary Bernhardt and the decidedly younger Duse that the actresses ended up appearing in the same role in the same play on different nights, with critics and the crème de la crème of society attending each woman's performance, lest they become social outcasts. Although there is no historical basis for the scenario - the closest history comes to matching fiction is Duse playing the lead in an Italian version of La Dame aux camélias, a role already made famous by Bernhardt - the artifice is an intriguing one, and would certainly provide a surfeit of dramatic tension for the film. Not to mention finally making happy those actors who criticize the idea of a Best Actor award by saying the only way to determine a "best" would be to have all the contenders play the same part.

The Rivals is being scripted by Robin Swicord, who brought us Practical Magic, among other things, and is being produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. Spielberg is currently said to be considering directing the film, which could well make for an even more fascinating project should he decide to take this one. Love him or hate him, Spielberg is a master at getting the best performances out of his actors, and having him direct a film that focuses on the rivalry between two famous 19th-century prima donnas should be a treat to behold. It will also be interesting to see who is cast as Bernhardt and Duse; this is another very important piece of the puzzle that will give a better idea of the ultimate direction of the film.

Regardless of the final casting and directing decisions, certainly The Rivals will be a project to look for when it hits theatres sometime in 2006, for not only will it provide a bit of information on theatrical history of which many are not aware, but definitely affords the opportunity for a wonderful look at just how big egos can become in those who entertain the masses for a living, and how deliciously they can clash when competing for love not only from audiences and critics, but in their personal lives as well. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)

Vital statistics for The Rivals
Director Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter Robin Swicord
Distributor DreamWorks
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture

Comparison films for The Rivals
Adjusted Opening
Total BO
Adjusted Total
Practical Magic 10/16/9813.10 16.84 2652 4940.00 6109.2 46.81 60.18 3.57
Chicago 2/7/0310.79 10.79 1841 5859.00 5859.0 170.68 170.68 10.94
Center Stage 5/12/004.60 5.14 1506 3054.00 3286.3 17.14 19.17 3.73
Shakespeare in Love 1/22/993.63 4.32 655 5542.00 6327.5 100.24 119.45 21.48



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