Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Roland Emmerich
Stars: Rhys Ifans, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, .
Roland Emmerich is best known for his big budget, special effects driven disaster movies, like Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, etc. His latest film is set against the background of palace intrigues and conspiracies in the court of Elizabeth I, and explores the controversy of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. For decades, scholars have debated whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays attributed to him. Anonymous answers with a resounding “No!”
The film suggests that the enduring plays like Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo And Juliet et al, were actually written by Edward De Veres (Rhys Ifans), a frustrated nobleman with an interest in poetry and drama. But since writing plays and poetry were considered beneath his station, De Veres decided to pass his plays on to struggling playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), promising that they would make him the most famous writer in history. But when Johnson hesitated, unsure of how they would be received, alcoholic, illiterate ham actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, son of Timothy) laid claim to authorship.
The film deals with the palace intrigues and skulduggery in the court of Elizabeth I, especially as the puritan William Cecil (David Thewlis) tried to exert his influence at any cost. Emmerich’s attention to period detail is impressive, as is the recreation of Elizabethan London on soundstages at Berlin’s famed Babelsberg Studios. Anonymous is mischievous in its exploration of Shakespeare’s legacy, and there are a number of clever in-jokes and references to his oeuvre. An in depth knowledge of the history of Elizabethan England or literature is not necessary, but it does help as the film offers up a roll call of famous names like Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, etc.
Emmerich has assembled a great cast to bring to life some of these famous characters. Vanessa Redgrave brings dignity and authority to her portrayal of Elizabeth, while, in a nicely ironic piece of casting, her daughter Joely Richardson plays a younger, passionate version of herself in flashbacks. Ifans is cast against type, and delivers a solid performance as De Veres, a frustrated playwright forced to watch Shakespeare claim credit for his work. Spall plays Shakespeare as a buffoon. While Anonymous may not be as much fun as the playful Shakespeare In Love, its take on the period and the age-old conspiracy does hold interest.