What's disappointing about Anonymous is that it isn't dumb enough. Rather than plunging merrily ahead with its fanciful counternarrative, the movie keeps stopping to actually, seriously make its case -- to posit and explain and persuade.
Don't let the frilly costumes, courtly language and historical pretense fool you: "Anonymous" is still a Roland Emmerich movie - a blessing when it comes to vigor and a curse when it comes to subtlety, proportion or sense.
The very qualities that fuel the historical hokum of Anonymous -- over-the-top royal intrigue and incest, violent literary backstabbing, frothing conspiracy -- also happen to make for wild entertainment.
Historians will quibble with the timing and accuracy of a lot of the film, and you know what? Let them. The rest of us can enjoy the performances and the sumptuous look of the movie, which is a lot more satisfying, anyway.
Anonymous, far from ascending the brightest heaven of invention, is a muddled, often confusing film, unable to mesh its political and theatrical plotlines. Worse, it undermines its own argument by cramming in too many fanciful possibilities.
Anonymous is so dubious in its intent and so tangled in its execution, it might have worked better as a comedy like Notting Hill or The Boat That Rocked, where Ifans could agreeably play the fool as before.
As the initial whiff of scandal eventually gives way to great, repetitive blubbering about the brilliance and significance of Shakespeare's works, "Anonymous" ultimately feels like much ado about nothing.