"“As long you take away any factual elements, and treat the film for what it is, a fun, fictional thriller – it’s hard not to quite like it…”"
If there is one piece of advice I can give regarding the release of Anonymous – is to ignore the promotional campaign. The matter of exposing Shakespeare as a fraud is merely a side-note in an otherwise enjoyable political thriller.
The film seems to be building up quite a stir ahead of its release, with its controversial theory causing debate amongst the Shakespearian faithful. Purists may disagree, other’s are not so sure – as Anonymous claims that all of William Shakespeare’s plays were in fact written by Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford.
However, despite the rather successful PR campaign, in a sense it can prove quite damaging to the production, taking away the spotlight from a host of impressive performances, and a gripping tale.
De Vere (Rhys Ifans) is a misunderstood poet, whom despite possessing a love for the arts, is in a position where such adoration and involvement is frowned upon, particularly by Queen Elizabeth’s (Vanessa Redgrave) advisor William Cecil (David Thewlis).
Therefore, despite possessing an unnaturally gifted talent for playwriting, the Earl of Oxford tries to persuade fellow writer Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to be his alias and pretend that the plays are his own. However, when Jonson rejects the offer, a young, clumsy actor by the name of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes up the offer – and thus gains incredible success with the Earl’s work.
In the meantime, there is the Essex Rebellion against the Queen, as well as romantic complications surrounding the Earl of Oxford and the Elizabeth – depicted in flashbacks, where Jamie Campbell Bower and Joely Richardson portray the younger lovers.
I hold my hands up to feeling quite uneasy with the contentious depiction of the Bard – but the film is not trying to portray a message, or re-write history, but instead use such a story as a backdrop to a fascinating insight into the Monarchy and a tale about love and its restrictions. With a series of mishaps, murders and unexpected pregnancies, it almost becomes an Elizabethan soap opera.
The film certainly had the potential to be absolutely awful – as the idea of a period drama-cum-epic blockbuster, set in London in the late 16th century, had me feeling rather sceptical, but due to the credentials of the cast, allowed for the film to be quite compelling and enjoyable.
With actors such as Redgrave and her daughter Richardson, as well as Thewlis and Ifans – there are a host of very talented British actors on show, including cameos from both Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi, many of whom have performed Shakespeare before, whilst the latter two have become renowned for their services to theatre, in particular the work of Shakespeare. I feel this gives the film validity, almost excusing the quite divisive allegations. I doubt such actors would have taken on the roles had they felt the film is derogatory to Shakespeare’s work.
The film does go on perhaps a little too long however, and at times comes across as being melodramatic. I feel much of this is due to the fact it is directed by Roland Emmerich, thus meaning that the film has an ambitious, epic feel to it. As the man who made Independence Day and 2012, amongst various other blockbuster hits, brings his typically overstating aspects to the feature. This for me was the main blemish, as I feel that it would have improved from being a smaller production, making it a more intimate experience for the viewer.
But as long you take away any factual elements, and treat the film for what it is, a fun, fictional thriller – it’s hard not to quite like it. It bears so many twists and turns, it doesn’t actually feel too far away from being a tragedy from Shakespeare himself. Sorry, I mean the Earl of Oxford..