Sunday, May 19, 2013

Roland Emmerich's Anonymous - a Review

Since the mid-1800s, a controversy about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays has been debated back and forth. "Anonymous" is the culmination of that debate that tries to reconcile those theories by offering what, by some, is the most plausible, and the most probable author. Disaster director Roland Emmerich ("The Day After Tomorrow," "2012," "Stargate"), along with writer John Orloff ("Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole") put together a film, not so much about William Shakespeare himself, but about the political intrigue within the court of Queen Elizabeth I played by mother and daughter team of Joley Richards and Vanessa Redgrave. As a period piece, Emmerich does a great job of bringing us this story in such a way that not only is easy to understand, but in many ways captivating. Although not a true story in a historical context, Orloff's script does provides a reasonable doubt about who wrote Shakespeare's plays. 

Starting in modern day England, famed Shakespearian actor Derek Jacobi ("I Claudius," "Underworld: Revolution," "Gladiator") arrives at a theater and quickly takes the stage and provides "evidence" that the works of Shakespeare are not in fact his. In fact, Jacobi is indeed an Oxfordian, one who supports the idea that the 17th Earl of Oxford is truly the author of Shakespeare's plays. Flashing back to the late 1500s near the end of the Elizabeth I's reign, "Anonymous" focuses on Edward de Veres, the 17th Earl of Oxford, Ben Jonson, a playwright of that era, and The Earl of Southhampton, who is the supposed bastard child of Elizabeth. The film also centers on the Queen's Secretary of State, Sir William Cecil and his son Robert, a hunchback. Oh yes, also on William Shakespeare, an actor in Jonson's troupe also plays a role as well. Robert Cecil reminds us that the late Elizabethan was also the era of the Puritans and their rebuke of all things that bring pleasure, like art, poetry, secular music, and that plays are considered an act of idolatry and a sin. 

As this is historical fiction, and as Shakespeare did in his plays, the author has taken a bit of poetic license in how he wants his characters portrayed. The film has a tendency to jump even further back in time to the early days of Elizabeth's reign, and then back to the "present." Joley Richardson plays the young Elizabeth as a woman not only as a beauty who loves life, but is also somewhat of a cougar in the modern sense. In one scene de Veres is a young man in probably his early 20's who has done some traveling to Italy and other parts of Europe, which is a total come on to Liz. Their affair is brief, however does produce a child. 

The Cecils, both William (David Thewlis of "Harry Potter" fame) and Robert (Edward Hogg) both want to hold on to their power by any means. Like Worm Tongue, they sow the seeds of conspiracy in Elizabeth's ear throughout her reign and throughout the film. Not only are they privy to the Queen's affairs, both illicit and legal, they use that knowledge to their advantage. As an aged, dying William tells his son Robert, they will win with cunning and ruthlessness. 



Rhys Ifans ("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age") plays de Veres, the Earl of Oxford as a repressed poet and playwright. He is the son in-law of William Cecil and brother in-law to Robert Cecil, Elizabeth's closest advisors. As many may know, Elizabeth was reluctant to marry, and failed to name an heir. The Cecil's felt that James I of Scotland would be controllable on the English throne, however, Oxford, and his supporters felt that Essex, the illegitimate heir, but a Tudor would be a better choice. Oxford, once providing plays for the queen during his youth is now a man who the Cecils hold captive serving no role in government, no role in the military, and no role in general other than wanting his plays to be heard. Having a child with Elizabeth, although married to William Cecil's daughter Anne, Edward also had a child with one of the Queen's handmaidens. Upon hearing of this child, Liz has Edward banished from court. 



Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), England's first Poet Laureate is portrayed as a petty, and jealous man. Jonson is selected by Oxford to produce his plays, and to claim them as his own. This is not only a moral issue for Jonson, but also one of ego. Unable to write plays as great as Oxford's; he refuses to applaud during them. Rafe Spall ("Hot Fuzz" and the upcoming "Prometheus") portrays Shakespeare as a backstabbing drunken blackmailer who bypasses Jonson, and goes directly to blackmail Oxford. Throughout the story, one has to remember that history is written by the winners. 



Unlike his disaster films, Emmerich balances, the pace of the film by not rushing, but by not lingering on scenes unnecessarily. The language for the most part is devoid of thees and thous, unless it is a scene from the many plays they show briefly. The music selected for this film, is not of the period, but instead classical pieces utilized to invoke a mood for the scene. During Edward's wedding to Anne, Mozart's Requiem is playing giving the feeling of a funeral, rather than a joyful occasion, as that what is was for Edward, the death of his literary ambitions. Ultimately this film will give viewers a reason to doubt, but more importantly to delve into Shakespeare's writings, whoever he was, and enjoy his work from a new perspective.


Movie Data

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller 
Year:  2011
Staring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis
Director: Roland Emmerich
Producer(s): Roland Emmerich, Robert Leger 
Writer: John Orloff
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: 10/28/2011