Things that happened hundreds of years ago were not documented to within an inch of their lives in print, audio and video like we do today. So a lot of what went on we are not certain about. That doubt has been turned into an interesting conspiracy theory that has been floating around since the 1760s about the belief that William Shakespeare did not write his plays. Some have said that other writers like Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe might have actually written some works that were attributed to the poet/playwright. Some have even forwarded the theory that his sister Joan wrote his plays. Whether these theories are true or not they make interesting food for fodder.
Screenwriter John Orloff (A Mighty Heart) has taken the theories and run with them. He and director Roland Emmerich (2012, The Patriot) have made a film based on the idea that Shakespeare was merely and actor who was in the right place and the right time and brilliant plays and poems were written by another then attributed to him.
Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave – Mission: Impossible, Howard’s End) was in the latter stages of her reign and the issue of her successor arises. She is childless and as such the throne of England is up for grabs. There are the Tudors and Cecils who both want it. Elizabeth I is also having to deal with the Essex Rebellion. The monarch’s hands are full.
At the time, the 17th Earl of Oxford was Edward de Vere (Jamie Campbell Bower – Rocknrolla, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1). A man of means though quite eccentric. Through a series of flashbacks to his youth we see that as a young man de Vere had had a love affair with Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson – from television’s Nip/Tuck). Before they can be separated Elizabeth I has a child that is taken from her.
As an adult de Vere (Rhys Ifans – Notting Hill, Hannibal Rising) has been for years penning plays though he has largely kept them hidden from most except for his wife, Anne (Helen Baxendale – from television’s Friends). Wanting to have his plays seen though not wanting it known that he wrote them, de Vere decides to pass off flamboyant actor, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall – Shaun of the Dead, A Good Year), as the writer. His plays are a hit and Shakespeare becomes quite famous.
You definitely should have a strong pot of coffee and have a good night’s sleep before settling in to watch this one. With all the jumping back and forth in time the film does it can become a little confusing. Throw in all the different characters and the shenanigans going on in Elizabeth I’s court and you’ve got a big old stew of a story.
You also have to remember that this is meant to be entertainment and not a history lesson. Don’t get frustrated with inconsistencies or inaccuracies. Anonymous is clearly a fictional story that features some actual historical figures.
I have to admit that despite all the jumping around Anonymous kept me interested. I have always been a sucker for conspiracy theories and British period pieces. What really elevated the film to entertaining rather than a muddled mess for me was the visuals. Tons of attention is paid to detail. The way the film looks is amazing with the costumes, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and the streets of London all being very authentic looking.
Rhys Ifans and the always astonishing Vanessa Redgrave turn in great performances. Redgrave has forged a career littered with strong performances. It was Ifans that surprised me some. I really only knew him as a comedic actor and he showed that he is also capable of dramatic roles.
Really Anonymous is a political thriller. The whole William Shakespeare/Edward de Vere thing is just an interesting little tidbit. The crux of the film is all the tension created by the goings on due to the advancing age of the Virgin Queen and her lack of an heir to the throne.
-Who is the Real William Shakespeare?
-Previews of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Carnage, A Dangerous Method, The Ides of March, Fireflies in the Garden, The Rum Diary