(PG) Sony DVD/BD
Anonymous is a drama set amid the cutthroat political world of Elizabethan England.
It explores the life of the legend William Shakespeare, and poses the question: what if he never actually wrote a single word? What if he was, in fact, a fraud?
Rhys Ifans stars as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, a man of noble birth who is forced to hide his great love of words and write in secret. He enlists the help of the playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to put on his plays, which are laced with his political agenda and received with great success.
All goes well until a bawdy, near-illiterate actor named Shakespeare takes credit for the plays and becomes an instant celebrity. Meanwhile, the Earl becomes increasingly entangled in a dangerous political plot involving Queen Elizabeth I as a series of flashbacks reveal their connection, his inspiration, and his mysterious past.
Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day after Tomorrow, 2012) Anonymous is rife with historical inaccuracies. The conspiracy theory often takes itself too seriously.
From the outset the audience knows it can hardly be true yet the film seems to be doing its best to convince us anyway. Screenwriter John Orloff has claimed that his truth-stretching is a tribute to Shakespeare himself who often indulged in historical inaccuracies for the benefit of his narratives.
Even so, the plot often borders on preposterous and the majority of the cast does little to boost the heavy, depressingly dramatic nature of the film. Attempts to be comedic usually fall flat, the acting troupe is largely unfunny and, although Rafe Spall as the rogue Shakespeare is occasionally brilliant, he is more often simply annoying.
Mother/daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson play young and old Queen Elizabeth respectively. Sebastian Armesto as the playwright Jonson is unlikeable — a huge problem considering his connection with the audience would have been a driving force of the film.
The good news is that Ifans shines as the Earl of Oxford and brings a strong, dignified presence to Anonymous. The film’s best moments are those where exceptionally moving excerpts of “Shakespeare’s” plays are enacted to spellbound audiences.
Anonymous is visually stunning, beautifully photographed, and politically intriguing, with moments of brilliance, but more often than not it is disappointing, stumbling over its own desires to be mysterious and grand.
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