• You don’t screw with The Bard.

      “He has long been regarded as one of the finest literary minds in all of human history; his 30+ plays, countless sonnets and poems, and sheer volume of respected works have become established English language mainstays for centuries. William Shakespeare, however, is seen by many as a fraud. It has been claimed by those who follow the Oxford theory, that the works of Shakespeare were actually penned by a nobleman during Elizabeth I’s reign, the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. The question of authorship has long been disputed by both sides of the argument, although exactly what’s at stake for the “winner” of the argument baffles me – surely, no matter who wrote them, the quality of the work itself is not diminished? In any case, the weight of a major Hollywood director has been thrown into this controversial subject, in Roland Emmerich, a man best known for destroying the planet in nearly all his feature films thus far. Watching films like Independence Day and 2012, you might find it hard to imagine that a director of such commercially successful blockbusters might risk his reputation (ha!) on a film about the great English playwright, but it’s true. There’s no approaching asteroid, no gargantuan alien army, no marauding menace from Mother Nature here: no, Anonymous pits Emmerich against his most powerful foe yet – the English language. Does he succeed in making sense of the arguments? Does Emmerich lay waste to the naysayers and poppycockers that claim Shakespeare alone was the author of literary gems such as Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth? Or is Anonymous too wrapped up in its own mystique to make much sense to anyone other than those for whom the argument remains a legitimate question?”

      “I’m no expert on Shakespeare, but even looking at the most miniscule evidence I did while researching this review, it’s a fair bet that some, if not most, of the plays attributed to the man weren’t written by him. I know, there’ll be some who cry heresy at that statement, but how can any rational, free-thinking man believe that an illiterate man like Shaksepare could produce some of the most glorious prose in the history of the English language. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, this controversy only serves to fan the flames of Anonymous’s often zealous charges against the legitimacy of old Willie’s claim to authorship. The film presents itself in a cloud of political and dramatic postulating and posturing: Anonymous is a terribly dense film to watch, and for most people I suspect it’ll be too much. The film wanders tangentially through a variety of time periods, skipping back from present day, to Elizabeth I’s later reign, and back again to the early part of her life, all to try and encapsulate the eras that influenced one of literature’s great authors. Which, on reflection, is probably the film’s key failing.”

      “Performances across the board are exemplary. The entire cast, and I mean the entire cast, never put a foot wrong, in either delivery or characterization; leading the charge is Rhys Ifans, who is soulfully circumspect and potently driven as de Vere, bringing an intensity I’d not seen in him as an actor before. Vanessa Redgrave, as the older Queen Elizabeth, is simply breathtakingly powerful in her delivery – she reminds me of Judi Dench for the ease of her ability not to look like she’s acting. Redgrave’s real-life daughter, Joely Richardson, plays the younger version of Queen Elizabeth in a casting coup – Richardson’s nowhere near the level of her mother, but she’s good enough not to shortfall on this dual role. Sebastian Armiesto is commendably solid as a competing playwright, and of all the players here, it’s he who provides the most poignant emotional performance – he’s the Everyman character here, in a role I saw paralleled with F Murray Abraham’s Salieri in Amadeus: Ben Jonson wishes he could write like de Vere, but cannot, so he remains content simply to be a lesser man. It’s a potent portrayal of a man destined to be forgotten by history, although you’d never know it.”

      “The film is bookended quite potently by a monologue by Sir Derek Jacobi – himself a vocal proponent of the Oxford theory – and it’s here that Emmerich sets up the story, and the motivation to tell it, quite well. It’s the attention to detail that Emmerich provides the film with that I really enjoyed, regardless of the story. The unfolding drama seemed to my untrained eyes to be a collision of ideas and concepts, of personalities in clash with one another, and without a direct motivation as to why this story needed to be told in the first place. It is a well told story (if you can follow along), but the film’s about twenty minutes too long, and not focused enough on the core story, which should have been the authorship of Shakespeare.”

      “…but at its core Anonymous remains a loud, forceful film arguing against the legitimacy of one of history’s greatest writers. Whichever side of the conspiracy you come down on, regardless of your appreciation of the works of Shakespeare himself, there’s little doubt that Anonymous provides ripe fruit for discussion, and that in itself can only be a good thing. Densely plotted, almost infuriatingly so, Anonymous is recommended only on the strength of Ifans’ performance and the hilarious work of Vanessa Redgrave as the Queen.”

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