Anonymous - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Anonymous Reviews

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Super Reviewer
April 15, 2011
Anonymous is a film that straddles the lines between fact, fiction, and speculation while retaining every bit of its poignant drama. Lending to the long debated issue of the Shakespearean authorship, this film speculates on the Oxfordian theory of authorship, giving credit to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Weaving true history and dramatic license, the film is often engaging and educational in certain ways while expounding on others in order to keep the audience intrigued. The film was a labor of love from screenwriter John Orloff and director of schlock Roland Emmerich, which took almost twenty years to make. Apparently suspicion over the true authorship of Shakespeare's work rose to prominence in the mid twentieth century after he was named the greatest author of all time. Some eighty supposed authors have been named in finding some better educated and schooled author, compared to the lowly actor that was Shakespeare. Most of the theoretical plot makes sense, as the Earl was a ward of the Queen, wrote plays and poems, and could have easily made the rounds in the theaters, but many facts were distorted, and should have been in order to make this film work. Why de Vere ever gives his plays over to Ben Jonson, and eventually taken by Will Shakespeare, makes little sense as it was because of an oncoming insurrection by Essex and his son. The way de Vere speaks to every character with such insolence and pomp, plying his plays to Shakespeare under the assumption that they will be massively popular, makes him unfeasibly pretentious. The flashbacks to various points of history was intriguing yet bothersome, and usually leaves one feeling unsure of the true set of events. At the very end the truth is changed so much that the subject of incest even arises, a far cry from the truth of the matter, but is the only way to tie up a loathsome plot. The performances themselves were amazing, including from Jamie Campbell Bower as a young de Vere, Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I, and Rhys Ifans as the Earl. It was a film that certainly captivated and wasn't difficult to follow, but it was so obviously false in sections, and libelous when it came to the character of Shakespeare, showing him as a greedy oaf, that you couldn't truly enjoy it. That and the ending being so blatantly devious made the film come off as money hungry and trying too hard, blame which I perch on director Roland Emmerich's shoulders. Interesting, but certainly not the educational view you're expecting.
Super Reviewer
November 23, 2012
Whether you believe in the theory posited in Anonymous, or whether facts are ignored or distorted is irrelevant - since this is a fine production that, from the very first frame, tells you the yarn you are about to witness is nothing more than a play based on a theory.

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.
Super Reviewer
July 8, 2011
Yet another movie that I do not understand all the negative reviews. Granted, this is my very favorite genre of movies, but I absolutely loved it....conspiracy theory, and all! Plus, this was very well done, and had a great cast. Rhys Ifans was fantastic, as usual. I, also, loved the dramatic style that is was set around...beginning to end. This one is getting added to my favorites...
Super Reviewer
½ February 26, 2012
Emmerich loses all credibility trying to make us buy his theory at any cost. The premise is intriguing but the weak script is full of unnecessary soap-opera twists that make the plot even less believable. A mediocre movie that is also badly directed and edited, though with a great costume design.
Super Reviewer
January 31, 2012
Super Reviewer
½ November 20, 2011
Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 28, 2012
Apparently, historical accuracy is not given as much significance as the entertainment quotient. They've rather presented it as a tragic play wherein the playwright himself is a character falling victim to political tactics.

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.
Super Reviewer
September 24, 2011
"Anonymous" is a film that takes place during the time when William Shakespeare was in the midst of writing and performing in his most well-known plays, or so it seemed. We learn (supposedly) that he had others working on his plays for him and paying him to perform in them, giving him all the credit, for the soul reason that he knows what he is doing, not because he knows how to properly write. The story, although dragged out and dull, is extremely intriguing and a very fun ride to take through the ancient times. What goes without saying though, is that the set pieces and scenery that went into the making of this film are gorgeous to look at, and saves the dull scenes from becoming overly boring. The acting is top-notch, the idea is fresh, the historical facts are correct, but the fact that the main story is overshadowed by many side plots, will force the audience to lose interest very quickly. The screenplay is very "Shakespeare Influenced" even though we are forced to believe that he technically didn't write anything. Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie, but the fact I had to follow many plots points when I was only interested in the main one that was being pushed to the side, bored me quite a bit. Still, I applaud Emmerich's take on history and I let the film do what it wanted to do! I recommend this film to people who have read and are familiar with shakespearean plays, but unfortunately that is the only crowd who will find this film interesting. It's average, but it's fun!
Super Reviewer
November 10, 2011
What a dumb movie. It takes the most interesting of conspiracy theories and uses a stupid explanation - Shakespeare was a drunkard who wrote his name on a play and called it his. I'm sure it had to be a bit more complex than that, if it actually happened. The film gets less and less convincing as it goes on, it falls to ridiculous character cliche's, and of all things, loses sight of the plays as the focus! I went to see if Shakespeare did or did not write the plays that had his name on them, not to see if an heir to a loose of a Queen Elizabeth can be found. That's not what I paid to see, Roland. Why would anyone greenlight this project, this historical fiction, directed by the guy who gave us Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow? And *shudder*, 2012. God. Really? And the flashbacks...don't even get me started on the flashbacks and flash forwards. There were at least 50 during this movie, and at least 5 of them happen in the first 10 minutes. Learn to tell a story and tell it. Thats all.
Super Reviewer
November 8, 2011
I adore anything by or about Shakespeare, but I did not enjoy this overblown film, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. If you see it, do it for the visual CG recreations of 16th century London, the classy, commanding and wasted perfromances of Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Joely Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I, young and old, and the spot on breakthough performance by Rafe Spall as opportunistic, stupid, debauched William Shakespeare.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ September 16, 2011
I don't think ''Anonymous'' does a truly great job of convincing us of its theory that Shakespeare never wrote the poems or plays we believe he wrote and the story does become muddled at times. However, Roland Emmerich has stepped up and delivered a film far better than his previous films, though that's not saying too much. Rhys Ifans is terrific as Edward de Vere, as is Vanessa Redgrave. The film is engaging throughout in my view and Emmerich's visual style is gorgeous. It may seem a little forgiving, but if the story isn't entirely convincing, the performances, costumes, cinematography and pacing are.
Super Reviewer
½ October 30, 2011
Considering director's Roland Emmerich's track record of directing pretty much nothing but pieces of Hollywood special effects emptiness, it might become tempting to think that the film was directed by a ghost director in the same way it approaches its subject - it's quite well produced and really well acted, and whilst the premisse is quite intriguing, it never really delivers in terms of narrative and fails to create much of an impression.
Super Reviewer
½ April 2, 2012
Anonymous is a provocative drama that presents quite an intriguing story. Based on an obscure theory, the film presupposes that Shakespeare was an impostor and that his works originated from an English nobleman. Rhys Ifans and Joely Richardson give strong performances, but the material is a bit heavy and hard to follow. In fact the second half of the film gets especially convoluted, making this story all the more preposterous. Yet, despite its flaws Anonymous is an entertaining and compelling piece of speculative fiction.
Super Reviewer
½ November 3, 2011
I've suffered through Emmerich's body of work like schoolboys suffer through Shakespeare. Fitting then that the two should be united, and just as you'd expect it's a hell of a hard slog. Emmerich is the uber-hack, a shockingly bad director who lucked out with "Stargate" and has tortured audiences since with a series of overblown blockbusters whose running times have been known to cause hemorrhoids. The guy just has no idea how to tell a story simply and cohesively. I was utterly lost watching this movie. Characters are referred to without telling us visually who exactly they are, timelines are clumsily flipped back and forth, battle scenes occur with no established context. The cinematography is amateurish, all cheap looking filters and ham-fisted colour correction. The acting is so over the top it feels like an episode of "Blackadder". The editing leaves us scratching our heads as to whether we are watching a flashback or not. The CGI wouldn't look out of place in a nineties PC game.
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.
Super Reviewer
July 9, 2012
"This is a work of fiction" says the credits; and its more true than any of the facts presented to convince us that its somehow proof of the plays authorship. It's really a think piece that really has too many holes to think about. Told from the Oxfordian point of view on the topic of who was Shakespeare, the film rolls out slickly enough. It has high production values, and a good cast. However, it's not a scholarly, or even accurate approach, which might have served it better. It shows what you can do with facts; and how you can manipulate them to support any theory as well as the next. However, dates, times, and accepted truths are ignored here in favor of a ficitonal story that never quite seems possible.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ September 25, 2011
Totally fascinating! Alert: This story does play fast and loose with the biographical facts but does leave you with a big "What If?".
Super Reviewer
½ February 11, 2012
What to make of the much-maligned Roland Emmerich, director of such poorly received blockbuster films 2012 and 10,000 B.C., but also one of my personal favorites, The Patriot. Anonymous represents his biggest departure from his CGI filled action adventure entries. Simply put, it's a brilliant historical film being intriguing, smart, sexy, and immensely engaging. Having only a passing familiarity of the Oxfordian theory, I'm not sure I completely buy the film's premise. But while watching it, everything seems plausible. The theory aside, it features a surprisingly complex and factual historical setting. This may contribute to some viewer's frustrations, it's not always easy to follow, but I appreciated the willingness to keep things as accurate as possible. The acting is first class all around, as is the amazing script, full of rich dialogue, and managing to create a compelling narrative. Looking back, it's easily one of the best films of 2011.

4.5/5 Stars
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ February 11, 2012
I never thought that I'd call something pertaining to Roland Emmerich genius, but I must say that this film is brilliant... in its marketing. No, but seriously though, that trailer was so incredible, which is why they brought up the words "A Roland Emmerich Film" very early on in it, so that when the trailer got cool, you'd forget and be tricked into not thinking that the guy behind this is an absolute, tasteless, hack of an idiot. Jeez Roland, didn't you destory history enough with "10,000 B.C."? Well, now that I think about it, as much as I hate this hack, he was great casting as director, because when I think of a dramatic political study on the conspiracies behind famous literature, I think of big dumb blockbusters. No, I'll be the first to admit that Emmerich has got quite the handsome stylistic choices, but you can say that about countless other directors, most of which are immensely superior and have plenty of experience in these kind of dramas, and were they to go with any of those people, this would have been a much better film for it, but as it stands, Roland Emmerich wastes potential yet again. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's a bad film, because regardless of Das Stupid calling the shots, this film turned out alright, but not really much more than "alright", because it's still not without more than enough missteps that keep it from hitting the high mark that it was almost certainly going to hit until those six, horrible, dreaded words that no one wants to hear when beginning production of a film: Get Roland Emmerich on the phone.

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
Super Reviewer
September 3, 2011
The style, design, and performances are charming, but the push-and-pull plot holds this period piece back from being anything out of the ordinary. Rhys Ifans delivers an amazing performance, showing a perpetual slide into award-worthy roles.
Super Reviewer
½ August 2, 2011
The mystery surrounding Shakespeare and if one man, under this name, actually wrote the collection of poems and plays that have defined English literature has always been intriguing to me. It is clearly a topic of much debate among scholars whether this was a different person entirely with Shakespeare as a front or if there could have been several different writers who all collaborated on these stories. The truth is we will probably never know, but that doesn't make it fun to speculate and speculate is what "Anonymous" does beautifully. This type of scandal was destined for the big screen and writer John Orloff (A Mighty Heart, Legend of the Guardians) has fashioned a fine drama from the history books. Now, clearly we cannot accept the film as fact and even the bits that are historically accurate we must take with a grain of salt. This is historical fiction, but it is fun history and it is nothing short of entertaining. To see the time period rendered with such vivid imagination and style by Roland Emmerich (a man who has made a career out of documenting disasters) is refreshing. Though the topic may feel a bit taboo in his hands this is a delicious bit of scandal and mystery that the film tries to offer a version of. That is all this is, speculation around what could be one of the greatest scams ever and emmerich has enrolled a Grade-A cast with Rhys Ifans in the lead role as the Earl of Oxford, the man who had the experience, status, and education to write the type of plays Shakespeare produced. There is also the combination of Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave playing versions of Queen Elizabeth I and the wonderful David Thewlis as William Cecil. The narrative can become slightly confusing at parts but the tight direction and beautiful cinematography wind this all together for a rather satisfying conclusion that will have you googling Shakespeare conspiracies the moments those credits start to roll.
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