ANONYMOUS (2011) 1



Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: John Orloff

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis and Rafe Spall

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Described as a “political thriller”, Anonymous creates an atmosphere of foreboding and intrigue that, like many films of the genre, begins with a jumble of names, images, and flashbacks that challenge us to sort it all out. We are not certain of anything, but Emmerich invites us, in the words of Diane Ackerman “to groom our curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sunstruck hills.” Steering us through the maze of Tudor history, the film makes credible the startling events of the time, providing an authentic recreation of London in the 16th century with its crowded theaters and raucous audience, cluttered streets, and court royalty decked out in fine jewels.

Though some may point out historical inaccuracies in the film, Emmerich, citing Shakespeare in Love as an example, says that the film contains an “emotional truth” rather than a literal one because “the drama is the primary concern.” He need not have had concern on that aspect. Through Emmerich’s direction, the writing of John Orloff, the cinematography of Anna Foerster, and the superlative performance of an all British cast including Oscar-worthy performances by Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as Oxford, Anonymous succeeds both as an authentic drama and a plausible explanation for many of the problems surrounding the authorship question. While the film may lack a certain depth of characterization, it more than makes up for it with style, spectacle, and an involving story.

While the film bases many of its embellishments on facts known about Edward de Vere, the film does take a few rather implausible historical licenses, not unlike Amadeus which appeared about 25 years ago. Edward de Vere may have flirted with Queen Elizabeth when he was younger, but whether they bore a child does seem quite fantastic. Later in the film, an extraordinary truth about Oxford’s own heritage is revealed. However, films have to tell a story, and some licenses are made in order the story remain interesting and compelling. Shakespeare in many of his plays bent history to fulfill his dramatic goals and theatrical visions.

Many Shakespeare enthusiasts not only dismiss the Oxfordian argument but do not approve of the subject altogether. Some Stratfordians’ view is that there is no “authorship question” and that any attempt to discredit the man from Stratford does a disservice to Shakespare. I think “Anonymous” is not so much about changing minds but about bringing the question out into the open. Regardless on which side of the fence you may be, there are a lot of questions concerning the life of Shakespeare. Answers to mundane questions, such as primary sources concerning his composing, are strangely absent. No one seems to have mentioned Stratford being any kind of a poet, playwright or actor in Stratford. However, as shown in the film, primary source evidence survives which speaks of Edward de Vere as an adolescent putting on a short play for the young Queen Elizabeth.



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