Anonymous Directed by: Roland Emmerich Cast: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: October 28, 2011
PLOT: Perhaps it's the Earl of Oxford (Ifans) who penned all of Shakepeare's (Spall) plays. This film explores that idea and how it fit during the reign of Queen Elizabethe I (Redgrave).
WHO'S IT FOR? Conspiracy theorists who are also in love with period pieces. I know that's a small group, but they should be in love with this film.
"What if?" Perhaps there is no more important start to a question in the film industry than those two words. What if Darth Vader is his father? What if we get Eddie Murphy instead of Sylvester Stallone? What is E.T. phones home? On screen and behind the scenes Hollywood has been asking "What if?" since the beginning. So, what if William Shakespeare did not actually write all of those pieces of art? Um, OK.
Anonymous supposes that Shakespeare was simply an actor willing to take credit for plays and poems. Why on Earth would he do this? More importantly, why would someone not want the credit? Well, because in Shakespeare's day, or more importantly, in Queen Elizabeth I's day, you don't write plays. It is frowned upon something fierce. It doesn't fit in with noblemen and apparently God didn't appreciate it much back then either.
The film begins by pointing out some historical tidbits like Shakespeare never mentioning his 37 plays in his will. So, is this a film that destroys Shakespeare's reputation? Far from it. It simply makes the surrounding times more dramatic, like a soap opera. The Earl of Oxford (Ifans) has difficulty putting down his quill. Early in his life, this brought him attention from Queen Elizabeth I (Redgrave and Joely Richardson both place the Queen at different ages). As the Earl gets older, he's expected to put the art away and play politics. Through a series of events, involving another playwright Ben Johnson (Armesto) some plays fall in the lap of William Shakespeare (Spall). Even though Ifans does a good job as the lead, it's Spall that has the breakout role here. His Shakespeare is simple and somehow hilarious. It's like he's channeling Will Ferrell's oddity in every take. I kept wanting more of that, and less of the drama. But after all, since this is about Shakespeare, there's plenty of drama.
"All art is political, otherwise it would just be decoration." There aren't enough killer lines of dialogue like this one, but there is plenty of decorative eye candy. The costumes, sets and Shakespearean theater all look fantastic. A word of warning, I definitely had some difficulty keeping track of the many characters, surprising since it seems everyone was related to each other back then.
The most shocking thing about Anonymous is who directed the film. Emmerich is behind such films as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Having Emmerich behind this film is like having Clint Eastwood behind, well ... pick anything that Emmerich has directed. Emmerich clearly has passion for this project, you won't doubt that. It's just a matter of it you have the same passion.
Anonymous didn't have me rethinking history, but for those two hours, it was entertaining enough. I don't know if that will be enough for Emmerich and this "What if?"
FINAL SCORE: 6/10