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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
Who Is The Real William Shakespeare?
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I found myself immensely enjoying the acting of this superb cast. Rhys Ifans delivers a subtle and emotional performance as The Earl of Oxford. Ifans emotes so carefully with each facial expression and delicately spoken word. You can tell Ifans truly tried to play The Earl as thoughtfully as possible. Anonymous is my favorite role of Ifans because of his nuanced approach.
Furthermore, Edward Hogg gives a masterful performance as Robert Cecil. He portrays the Cecil's vile and calculating nature with apparent ease. He makes for a convincing villain. His sullen looks hide the contempt behind his eyes. The audience is treated not only by one great Cecil, but two with the addition of David Thewlis as William Cecil. Thewlis also plays it cool with an inner rage and disgust for plays and words. He marks Cecil for the Puritanical schemer history knows the Cecils as now.
Additionally, Anonymous harbors a slew of interesting supporting roles. Vanessa Redgrave is fun as crazed and romantic Elizabeth I. Sebastian Armesto is quite sympathetic as poet and playwright Ben Jonson. I thoroughly enjoyed Trystan Gravelle as the great playwright and poet Christopher "Kit" Marlowe. Finally, Derek Jacobi is the perfect choice for Anonymous' narrator.
Herein lies the problem with Anonymous: Rafe Spall. Spall is funny as a comedic actor, but his portrayal of William Shakespeare is so idiotic and lecherous, Anonymous instantly feels more synthetic. I wish Spall would have played Shakespeare a bit more likable or complex. As is, Spall's performance is contrived to say the least. He is really overacting. I think he loses the audience that wants to believe in William Shakespeare the brilliant writer.
Also, the score from Austrian composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander is quite enchanting. It keeps you in the time period with a bit of romance and excitement.
In all, Anonymous is a great movie and my favorite from Roland Emmerich despite its contrived efforts to undermine Shakespeare's legacy. It tells an interesting story in a beautiful and captivating way. The acting is overall quite excellent and even moving at times. I would recommend Anonymous to anyone who can put aside their feelings about Shakespeare and enjoy a neat film for its own merits.
They go too far though with the final idea of parentage... ... in the end. They should have just stuck with the evidence. Still a well acted and beautiful movie. The language alone is worth at least a few viewings.
The earl of oxford seems to be a good candidate for the author of Shakspears material and this film does a good job of making the case.
The fact that Elizabeth and the Earl of oxford may have unknowningly had an insestual relationship is new to me and something that seems pretty speculative but the basic premise of the film seems viable and is well done. However I would have been just fine with leaving the "romantic" stuff on the cutting room floor
I also liked the premise of the film. Most would say that the idea the 17th Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere) actually wrote Shakespeare's plays and sonnets began with Looney's book, but actually Mark Twain, Helen Keller, and John Adams all came before Looney and pretty much believed the same thing. There are a lot in de Vere's favor that make one come to that conclusion. And I found this movie brushed against some of them tastefully.
But I also have my gripes. Not many, but still. I saw this movie when it first came out, and found myself confused with all the many subplots and earls and who was who and why it mattered. It wasn't explained as I think it should have been. I still cared about the characters in the film, but I didn't see (at first viewing) what was so important to them - save for the main problem: of de Vere giving his work up to someone else because it simply wasn't fitting an earl writing for the theater.
Overall, I enjoyed this film and just had to see it again, it only because it's the first and only movie to dare put this very old "myth" out there.