However, this doesn't stop the film, Anonymous, from providing a fascinating, if not historically flawed, look at the idea. The film strongly plays up the secret and cut throat world of English politics and royal in fighting very well. It also manages to provide a lot of sympathy for its main character, who is torn between his true love, poetry and the theater, and his duties of being an Earl, a political figure not unlike a Duke or Count.
The framing device is also very clever setting the entire thing as a play within a play you and the fictional audience are watching. In a sense it's not trying to tell a "this is how it really happened" story, but an intentional look into speculative alternate history. With plenty of action, romance, and betrayals about, it would occur to me that any Game of Thrones fan would have a good time watching this one off story of political and artistic re-working England's royal heritage. There are no dragons in this of course, but with all the edits to history, I can only wonder why not?
Twas it he, or twas it not he; that is the question. Shrouded in controversy the true nature and identity of William Shakespeare has been contested ever since the creation of his unparalleled library began enthralling audiences in the early 1600's.
Although her majesty Queen Elizabeth is well known to have embraced the arts; Shakespeare, like all actors and playwrights of the time, were viewed as scoundrels and petty criminals, who praised false idols through expressive creation.
Thank fully this is a view the world no longer clings too. Most especially in the case of The Bard. Undisputedly one of the most influential writers in history; prolifically adding 20,000 words to the English cannon, devising 37 plays of which set the foundations to most comedies, tragedies and histories, and blessing love with over 150 sonnets from the heart.
But above all he was intriguing. At the time of his death, the real William Shakespeare, the actor, was a known almost illiterate who delivered a number of his plays under an anonymous title and bizarrely had 5 different spellings of his own name. Curiously, who was he really?
Offering just one hypothetical perspective to the inconsistencies of the time, this story is not about William the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, but the royal man-behind-the -quill who drove the politically motivated writing of which he claimed, and the queen of which he wished to reach.
As the curtain opens in a modern NYC theatre and we are immediately transported through prose back into Elizabethan England.
17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans) is a stately aristocrat and must follow the etiquette his position commands. Considered, by the day, to be the devils work, composing plays or 'sinful tales' is not an appropriate hobby for his station.
Bound and unable to present his expansive works openly, Edward calls for emerging playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), offering him a tidy commission to accept and introduce the pieces under his own name.
Reluctant, Johnson takes one, asking his acting acquaintance William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to perform it under an anonymous title. As Edward watches with anticipation from the stalls; the crowd's reaction to the powerful prose is intoxicating. Calling for the playwrights' identity, before Johnson can accept, the uncouth Shakespeare takes to the stage seizing the opportunity of unearned accolades.
Meanwhile, the Royal court is a flutter over who may be the aging and childless Queen Elizabeth's (Vanessa Redgrave) successor. Complicated by secret affairs and illegitimate children, the Virgin queen is not so virtuous and her suppressed passion for the theatre indulges passionate memories of love long past.
Conducting the orchestra in the centre of the political power play is Royal adviser William Cecit (David Thewlis) and later succeeded by his hunch-back son Robert (Edward Hogg), but they are no match for Edwards politically bias and commoner pleasing plays leading to uproar in both the lands and the court.
Filled with historical conspiracies, political skulduggery and sexual transgressions, this films compelling and delicious appeal is its web of fact-based elements. Power, betrayal, incest, facades and the theatre, The Bard himself would not lament at screenwriter John Orloff's words or designers Sebastian Krawinkel's exquisite envisioning.
74 year old Redgrave delivers extraordinary complexity and vulnerability to the ageing Queen of England and her daughter Joely Richardson invests playfulness and innocence into the flash-backed younger portions of the role. Hogg is sensational as the Machiavellian Cecil. Ifans is measured and accomplished whist the two Earls, Southampton (Australia's own rising star Xavier Samuel) and Essex (Sam Reid) are credible and destined to elude the indiscretions of their Twilight appearances.
The verdict: Though-provoking. Compelling. Astute. Fanciful. Looking beyond the disproving bias and the authorship debate, my mother's response at the close of this film captured its true essence of topic and tone "You simply feel like you just want to clap, I want to do some research and come see it again".
For never was there a story of more wow, than this of Elizabeth and her Romeo.
Published: The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication: 11/11/2011
The movie markets itself as a fictionalised account of the possibility that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere, could've been the author of Shakespeare's plays. This concept could be cinematic gold, but Emmerich, who seems to insist that all of his films should be CGI epics, and least two-and-a-half hours long, makes the drastic mistake of assuming that the De Vere vs. Shakespeare story just isn't enough for great drama.
What we get from Anonymous is a time-hopping look at Tudor politics, dotted with a bewildering array of loosely sketched characters; many of whom die amidst swirling cameras and scathing sound effects before we're even sure of their place in the story.
Rafe Spall plays Shakespeare as a smiling simpleton, Edward Hogg plays Robert Cecil as if he were Riff Raff from Rocky Horror, and Sebastian Armesto turns Ben Jonson into a jealous teen emo. If you have a history degree, you might follow (and even enjoy) some of the film's dabbling. If not, and you've any respect for (or interest in) Shakespeare's plays, be sure to steer clear.
The script seems interesting and original but this is the kind of movie that abuse of a subjective timeline, without realizing when to stop a little to let the viewer think about what is fiction and what it could be real. Roland Emmerich is a mostly science fiction director, but from time to time is devoted to do some historical film with little positive results.
What makes this film so visually acceptable? The production design so faithful to the modern England, and also the beautiful costume design.
In conclusion, "Anonymous" is not bad, although abuse of the resources that it have and at times trying to be realistic naming some historical facts that not contributing at all to the rhythm of the film.
So if the reality is stranger than fiction, William Shakespeare was the largest fraud who saw literature?, and Elizabeth I was the most incestuous Queen who ruled England?. Pure fiction, but it's a movie so interesting and visually beautiful that cannot have my disapproval.