2 hours, 9 minutes
PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.
for some violence and sexual content
Rhys Ifans ...
Earl of Oxford
Vanessa Redgrave ...
Queen Elizabeth I
Rafe Spall ...
David Thewlis ...
Edward Hogg ...
Sam Reid ...
Earl of Essex
Sebastian Armesto ...
Xavier Samuel ...
Earl of Southampton
The film deals with the oft questioned premise that the plays attributed to Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The plot concerns de Vere (Rhys Ifans) and his very close relationship with Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) and uses the stage to make a political statement involving
his erstwhile guardian William Cecil (David Thewlis) and his son Robert (Edward Hogg), who are
maneuvering to secure the succession to the English throne of James
Stuart, king of Scotland (James Clyde), against the claims of the young Earl of Essex (Sam Reid),
presumed to be one of the queen’s bastard offspring. The problem is that this scenario involves a lot of chronological reshuffling, character assassination,
implausibility and downright falsehood.
Primarily, Anonymous doesn’t merely turn Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall)
into a buffoon, and an illiterate one at that; it also characterizes
him as a money-hungry scoundrel, willing to resort to blackmail and even
murder while accepting public acclamation he
doesn’t deserve. By contrast, de Vere is portrayed as a
high-minded, emotionally controlled man whose genius is constrained by the fact that he can't use his own name. So he has playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) let the plays be performed as if they were his, though by accident they come to be
attributed to a hack actor named Will Shakespeare.
The film really falls apart when it moves into the corridors of
political power. One can challenge the depiction of the aged Elizabeth
as a querulous, emotionally distraught old woman controlled by her
advisors, but Vanessa Redgrave gives her such touching fragility that
you’re willing to go along, particularly since she matches up so well with her real daughter
Joely Richardson as the young queen. And though the characterization of
William Cecil as a Puritan hard-liner is off-base, David Thewlis plays
him with just the right amount of gravity.
But when one gets to the machinations of William and his son Robert
to secure the succession for James Stuart, supposedly
against Elizabeth’s will, the plot becomes so chaotic and the
revelations so over-the-top that they bend both historical credibility
and dramatic persuasiveness well past the breaking point. An impressive physical production directed by Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") has been lavished on this bunk, but, not even a book-ending appearance by Derek Jacobi to introduce and
sum up its premise can make Anonymous anything but what it is; a
lavish but historically unconvincing and dramatically muddled
presentation of a theory about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.