This political thriller set in the 16th century follows a conspiracy narrative in which the plays and poems of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) are instead attributed to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.
Although spinning a yarn questioning Shakespeare’s authorship, the glaring inaccuracies in the historical events presented highlight the fact that the chief aim of Anonymous is to be theatrical and entertaining first. Recorded history is therefore creatively re-imagined in order to present a compelling period drama in which the theatre of Shakespeare’s day becomes caught up in political manoeuvrings and a power play to decide England’s next monarch after Queen Elizabeth.
Consequently, due to the stigma associated with 16th century playwrights, as well as the scandal of writing politically charged plays, the gifted Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) instead contracts Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to take credit for his works who, concerned about his own literary career, allows actor and drunken, oaf William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to enact the deception in his place.
As the Earl of Oxford explains; “All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration.”
Other characters central to the plot include Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave and her real life daughter Joely Richardson), the Queen’s scheming advisor William Cecil (David Thewlis), his vindictive son Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid), the Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel), and Christopher Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle), with many more operating around the periphary, all of whom put in professional performances in keeping with an ensemble cast.
German director Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff subsequently present an authentic recreation of 16th century London complete with cluttered muddy streets, a bejeweled royal court, a spectacular Globe Theater filled with raucous crowds, as well as elaborate costumes and other visual elements to produce a fine piece of cinematography.
Furthermore, the director of such films as Universal Soldier (1992), Stargate (1994) Independence Day (1996) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004), showed great versatility in dealing with such contrasting material. The use of a split-time narrative also helped add pace to the otherwise straight forward story, although occasionally it use seemed a little haphazard.
Anonymous is also original and engaging in the way in which it deals with a range of other subject matter, including conspiracies concerning Queen Elizabeth and Essex’s Rebellion, although at times these did seem to overwhelm the Shakespeare storyline. Nevertheless, the film was highly watchable and will probably act as inspiration for others to do their own research on the subject of England’s Greatest Playwright.
- Rated: PG-13
- Drama, Thriller
- Release Date: 10/28/2011
- Directed by: Roland Emmerich
- Starring: Derek Jacobi, Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans, Sebastian Armesto, Vanessa Redgrave
- Produced by: Christoph Fisser, John Orloff, Larry J. Franco, Marc Weigert, Robert Leger, Roland Emmerich
- Written by: John Orloff
- Studio: Anonymous Pictures, Centropolis Entertainment, Relativity Media, Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures