Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds... who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.
Historical romp Anonymous takes an academic controversy (did the man named Shakespeare write the plays attributed to him?) and whips it into a lurid melodrama, crammed with political intrigue, heaving bosoms, flashing swordplay, conspiracies, forced marriage, incest, and more. Towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, Enduring Love), seeks an outlet for his poetic drive: he tries to get the playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to present his plays as Jonson's own. Jonson is reluctant to undercut his own work… but his friend, a vainglorious illiterate actor by the name of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), happily claims the glory when Oxford's plays prove hugely popular. But the real story of Anonymous isn't about authorship, it's about machinations to capture the throne of England when Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) dies. Wily counselors vie with dashing secret heirs, royal dallying leads to shocking secrets, and supposedly the plays are inextricably caught up in it all--except that they're not, really, and so Anonymous, for all its clever plotting and lush production values, falls flat by the end. Still, it's an enjoyable confection up to then, and showcases some lovely (if woefully historically inaccurate--the mosh-pit moment is delightfully preposterous) presentations of bits of the plays. Also featuring David Thewlis (Naked) and Joely Richardson, daughter of Ms. Redgrave, playing the younger Elizabeth. --Bret Fetzer