Release Date: Oct. 28, 2011
Running Time: 130 minutes
What if Shakespeare didn’t pen the immortal line, “To be or not to be”? The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship contends Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the likes of Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet, not the Bard. With Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff work off this theory to create a provocative Elizabethan thriller that suggests de Vere intended for his political allegories to incite the people to overthrow an aging, out-of-touch Queen Elizabeth I. In Anonymous, Shakespeare is nothing more than a front for de Vere, who stands to lose everything if he is unmasked as the true author of such rabble-rousing works as Henry V and Richard III. Emmerich is best known for manufacturing such big-budget spectacles as Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow that favor special effects over plot and acting, and that is both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to this weighty costume drama. He plays up the political intrigue of the proceedings; stages the plays in question in polemic fashion; and creates via CG a 16th-century London that is equally grand and dangerous. As a storyteller, though, Emmerich’s too often takes a heavy-handed approach that strips Anonymous of any subtly Orloff’s script likely possessed. The film also is filled with historical inaccuracies, including portraying Shakespeare as the murderer of his contemporary Christopher Marlowe, that are obviously included no other reason than to fan the flames. Also, Emmerich’s not an actor’s director, and that shows early in Anonymous when he allows his classically trained English cast to get too carried away with themselves. Slowly but surely, the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Rhys Ifans and David Thewlis find their rhythm and Anonymous turns into an acting master class. You can hear the cogs turning in Ifans’ head as his de Vere plots against the queen he once loved. He believes the pen truly is mightier than the sword. Anonymous brilliantly casts Redgrave as the decrepit Queen Elizabeth and her daughter Joey Richardson as the monarch in her younger years. Aside from the obvious physical characteristics they share, Redgrave and Richardson offer decisive snapshots in time of one of history’s strongest but impenetrable women. Proud, robust and sexually voracious, Richardson’s Princess Elizabeth is everything Redgrave’s confused and pathetic Queen longs to be again. But both Richardson and Redgrave offer an Elizabeth who is easy to manipulated when it comes to both matters of the heart and the state. Then there is Shakespeare. It would be much easier to accept Anonymous’ assertion that Shakespeare was nothing more than a liar, an opportunist, and a murderer were it not his clownish portrayal by the bumbling, stumbling Rafe Spall. Emmerich clearly forgot to tell Spall that Anonymous is not a comedy. Sadly, Spall’s presence often makes it impossible to take seriously the accusations Emmerich makes with Anonymous. In fact, it’s enough to drive you to Shakespeare’s defense.
Aired: Oct. 27, 2011
Web site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/anonymous/