Get past whether the theory has merit and you have a ripping good tale, extremely well acted by all concerned that is excellently filmed with a script that, while not necessarily worthy of the Bard of Avon, is intriguing and holds passages of truth and beauty.
I really enjoyed how the tale weaves back and forth in time and place, picking up threads from earlier scenes that may be nothing more than portents of what will follow, or things that will give later scenes greater impact. I also enjoyed the injection of selected scenes from the Bard's plays and how they infer what is going on politically at the time. Having seen Henry V at an outdoor theater built to resemble the Globe this past summer, it was a true joy to see the before the battle scene in all its "hooray for England" glory; and then watch the reaction from the "mob" in the audience.
Similarly I was also taken with the scenes from Richard III and the explanation that the portrayal of R3 as a hunchback was a direct and intentional jab at the Queen's chancellor.
Having seen Sir Ian McKellan in the role also didn't hurt my enjoyment of the scenes.
As in even the most serious of the Bard's dramas, there are elements of frivolity, as when the actor Will Shakespeare first read's Romeo and Juliet and then pitches the "but soft, what light by yonder window breaks" bit at a saucy wench and then turns to Ben Johnson and proclaims that he is going to become the premier cocksman in all England.
In retrospect, while this tale has enough political intrigue on its own merit, it is the inclusion of the Shakespearian canon that really makes the film sing. Of course if you aren't into the Bard then your reaction may of course be different - and yes, the script does lay on the reverence a bit too heavily, but brilliance is brilliance and I think anyone who values prose can certainly agree that there are wondrous passages of beauty within the Bard's canon. There is a scene when Ben Johnson (who the film reminds us, was the first poet laureate of England) comes to the Earl of Oxford's death bed (said Earl is the true author in this case) and gushes how the Earls words are true masterpieces - similar to the Requiem scene in Amadeus where Solinari sits in awe as Mozart composes the piece totally in his head, without a keyboard present.
As I mentioned, all the performances are solid, but special mention should go out to Vanessa Redgrave who gives a stunning performance as Queen Elizabeth, and to Derrick Jacobi as the academian/narrator - using his theatrical training to give each and every word its own sense of space and meaning.
Finally, I just have to mention a wondrous bit of writing which occurs about 2/3 of the way through the film. When the Earl's wife confronts him about continuing to write his plays (which, in the protestant faith of his wife, is blasphemy), he explains that he is bewitched by characters who talk to him and it's only by writing of them and what they tell him that he may banish them for a spell. Excuse my clumsy summation of this speech, but it is indeed truly beautiful and strikes a chord within any artist - they don't do what they do because they want to, but because they simply must.
Don't waste your time! This movie is really bad and boring. I usually don't fall asleep watching movies but this one hit the spot. The story is just so ridiculous and slow you can't even start to like it in any way. One of the worst movies I have ever seen and that's saying alot.
A political thriller advancing the theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford who penned Shakespeare's plays; set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her.
I wasn't aware of this conspiracy theory myself until I came across the movie. And I can hardly find it of much use to further the arguments. Watch it as a drama, and that's it. If you're looking for a lesson in history here, I don't opine this to be the right book. As for me, the movie was a mediocre drama, and I know not and care little as to whether the real author is Edward de Vere or William Shakespeare. (Besides, what's in name, right?) Thankfully, I knew what to expect here (which might have saved me from disappointment). But yeah, the time jumps was an irritating issue. The rating gets the benefit of (my) circumstances. Of course, I'm not going to elaborate on that.
Blockbuster director Roland Emerich has handled all aesthetics and pacing with perfect compentence, but the script by John Orloff is surprisingly flat and uninvolving. What annoyed me the most was the irrelevance of the supposed central conspiracy of attributing the plays of the Earl of Oxford to the idiot from Stratford named Shakespeare. This was really a sideshow to an absurd story of Tudor succession to the throne after Queen Elizabeth's passing, which concocted an incomprehensible brew of incestual sex, religious factiionalism and personal ambition.
After a day of thinking about it, I don't see how the story of the plays impacts on the succession story. They are mutually exclusive and I wonder why anyone should care about either. This film fails to make us care about who wrote the plays or whether King James or the Queen's illigitimate child should inherit the throne. Yes, I've ruined it for you about the illigitimate children. My bad.
Rhys Ifans' central performance as the true writer of the plays, the Earl of Oxford, is passably forgettable, as are almost all other performances, except for the ones mentioned above and the cameo by Derek Jacobi as a prologue. If you don't have any interest in Shakespeare lore, you will be mightily bored. Shakespeare was the soul of the age, but 'Anonymous' is not even the soul of fall 2011.
As for the authorship debate, I'm open to hearing about alternatives to the shlemiel from Stratford, but this film makes an lame, unconvincing case for Oxford. Apparently, the Earl of Oxford died before the last 7 plays in the canon were even written. That said, I'm sentimentally attached to the quiet glove maker from the provinces bad grammar school education and all.
The one positive is Ifans, excellent as Edward of Essex who this movie purports to be the real author of the bard's works.
In one of the movie's closing scenes we are told how Shakespeare defined his time. If film-makers like Michael Bay and Emmerich define ours I hope it's a chapter to be torn from the history books.
It also has a narrative with lines that are written only for the purpose of casting doubt on authorship, and these stand out as glaring the deeper into the film you go. It also presents a later-in-life Queen Elizabeth as a befuddled old lecher, which, while bold, has slender evidence to support it. The acting is all right: There's a lot of scenery chewing by the advisors of the Queen, and the muddled political plot founds itself on the modern idea of communication: That information is instant, and that a single peformance of Richard III could somehow support Essex's rebellion. There's also the problem put forth that the Earl of Oxford wrote a bunch of plays all at once with political motivations, and then dribbled them out through Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. While somewhat plausible, this ignores the fact that you can't write political satire into a play when those events that surround what's being satirized haven't even occurred yet! To do that would require a crystal ball. But then, publishing dates are always in question surrounding the plays, so I suppose you can just fit the date to match the facts.
One case in point: The movie purports that the Earl wrote Richard III with an idea that if he had it produced to support a rebellion, it would act like a Twitter-based Internet rebellion right at the precise moment they needed it to. However, it's already established that he wrote it before there was any thought of getting rid of the queen and her hated advisor Robert Cecil. Crystal ball gazing again. The play, it's true, does advocate regicide, and that's what Emmerich is saying. He chooses to forget that the play was about how the Tudors gained power, so it's really pro-Tudor, not anti-Tudor. However, you can fit the facts any way you like. The film was ultimately a huge disappointment, and didn't convince me of anything except that Shakespeare was still brilliant, whoever he was.
There is limited evidence supporting Roland Emmerich's presence, but it's not like you ever forget it, because what evidence there is to support his presence screams, "Roland Emmerich", only it's not always his strengths proclaimed by the film. The film makes little pretense of being anything more than pure sensationalism, and that is made clear, considering that Shakespeare's own taste in melodrama has been incorporated into the script to support both the theme and fictitious tone, but what Emmerich fails to realize are the limitations on that melodrama. Emmerich's a weak storyteller enough as it is, but when he's given all of this super melodrama to play up, he overplays his hand, leaving plenty of moments to feel overwhelming in their suddenness and noisiness, and it really powers down the film's intrigue and intellegence. Still, as much as I give that idiot a hard time, he's not the only one to blame for this film's moments of lacking in the intellegence department, because John Orloff's screenplay gets rather spotty. Orloff is clearly with good intentions - and certainly with a good premise -, but his additions to this big mystery get to be a bit too far-fetched, while many of his additions to the progression of the story feel rushed and rather convoluted, and it really throws you out of the film, and to add insult to injury, the screenplay also hits some pretty low points in dialogue from time to time. Now, I'm not reaching for stuff to pick apart, because I don't trust a Roland Emmerich film; when I first heard he was on board, I was worried, because I genuinely wanted this film to succeed, and I still want it to even now, especially with that admittedly pretty darn sharp final half-hour, but I've got to be perfectly honest and say with a combination of Emmerich's mediocre direction and Orloff's spotty screenplay, this very high potential goes unrealized and after a while, the film loses enough steam for it to finally sit as just alright. Still, the film dances far from mediocrity, because in spite of all of its missteps - of which there are many -, the film has enough ink in its pen to sketch its portrait well enough.
I hate considering him an aesthetic person, so I'm only assuming that Emmerich has the taste in style that he does simply because he thinks it looks cool, but hey, it's not like he's wrong, because the film looks cool to a dumb person like Emmerich. Anyone else, the film doesn't so much look cool as it looks dashingly handsome, to say the least, because this film looks absolutely beautiful, having a gracefully saturated, almost fluid aura that brings the essence of this world to life and keeps it engaging. Still, something else that also brings this world to life is, well, what actually recreates the world: The visual effects, which are subtle and seamless, boasting authenticity and slickness in their reconstruction of old England, and with fine production designs, as well as the aforementioned beautiful cinematography complimenting this lively world, it's hard to not be captivated by, if nothing else, the handsome rebirth of a time lost. Still, the film is not only impressive aesthetically, as there is another fine element that keeps this film afloat whenever it is incorporated: The guy playing Shakespeare. I mean, he was cheesy to the point of not only being an additional offense to Shakespeare, but to the point of feeling like an anachronism, but he was actually kind of funny, and plus, I do like Russell Brand, and Shakespeare's portrayer, Rafe Spall, clearly took some notes from Brand. Wow, I think I just solidified how surprisingly unintellegent this film ended up being by drawing comparisons with Russell Brand, but it's not like the film is all out stupid - and not just because Russell Brand is actually pretty darn clever -, partially because of the other performers. True, there are some tertiaries that are definately improvable, but the head hanchos definately show how they got to be head hanchos, because, on the whole, this film is packed with fine, sometimes charming and sometimes boldly emotional performances, whether it be the subtle, graceful Vanessa Redgrave or the great Rhys Ifans, who's portrayal of a man facing the facts that he can never be honored for the masterpieces a fool is claiming credit for is heartbreaking, and for every turn in his character, you're on the edge of your seat, maybe not enough times to where Ifans is entirely worth mentioning alongside some of the best performances of 2011, but for every moment he's onscreen, he spends his time well.
In the end, Roland Emmerich's overwhelmingly melodramatic direction that exacerbates a sometimes far-fetched and often convoluted screenplay leaves the film to pop out steam with every step, until it all but slows to a crawl as a "just fine" film, when it could have been a great film, but what keeps it genuinely enjoyable regardless is the handsome visual style that compliments sharp production design, as well as generally charming, when not very strong performances, leaving "Anonymous" to stand as a generally intriguing tale, improvable though, it may be.
2.5/5 - Fair