Film Review: Anonymous

| 4 November , 2011 | Reply

Directed By: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Jamie Campbell Bower, Xavier Samuel
Sassi\’s Star Rating: 3.5/5

Better known for action packed blockbusters (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow) Elizabethan England was perhaps an odd route for Anonymous director Roland Emmerich to take. Though you had better believe that in Emmerich brings as much spectacle and drama to a centuries old debate between literary scholars as he does to the destruction of the earth.

What if Shakespeare was not who we thought he was? That is the question on Emmerich\’s lips. Anonymous brings to life the arguments of cultural researchers and conspiracy theorists that suppose that the Immortal Bard was never actually William Shakespeare. This film plays out the idea that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was the actual author of plays such as Hamlet and Twelfth Night. A member of Elizabeth\’s court, Oxford (Rhys Ifans) has actor Shakespeare feign ownership of his cherished plays in order to have them performed before the public without damaging his title.

There are a number of significant arguments behind Shakespeare\’s questioned authorship, most of which are only mentioned briefly and then forgotten. For Anonymous does not want to really convince anyone of its argument, it just wants to explore the ‘what if\’? And ‘what if\’ is a dramatic historical romp unashamedly divorced from what any textbook will tell you. Anonymous doesn\’t just bend history, it does whatever it likes with it. Emmerich gets his adultery, his incest, and his bastardry; but what he creates with his display is perhaps too far removed to be enjoyable for Elizabethan enthusiasts – a good portion of whom will fill up cinema seats.

What Anonymous does do is bring some highly interesting, and most likely contentious characterisations to the table. The powerful feminist icon Elizabeth is but an emotional, flirtatious prince in her youth and a weak, senile woman at her end (played deliciously at different stages of her life by mother/daughter team Joelie Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave). William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is an illiterate lush, and Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) is a talentless hack: stick that in your Poet Laureate and smoke it!

Anonymous boasts an incredibly strong cast and many impressive performances as well as some outstanding costume and set design. Emmerich\’s penchant for estravaganza begets fantastic staging of Shakespeare\’s plays. But the strength of such an intriguing idea is lost in an overly complicated plot that runs far too long. A game of politics, a forbidden romance, a revolutionary tale; too often does Anonymous forget it is a supposed to be a story about an author and his plays.

See for some sixteenth century spectacle.

Anonymous in cinemas now


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Category: Film & TV

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