Set during the scandalous Elizabethan England, “Anonymous” proposes that Shakespeare wasn’t the true author of all those plays and sonnets, and the true author was, in fact, just another man. When people doubt Shakespeare, they usually doubt that one man could have written thirty-seven famous plays and countless poems. The movie takes a different approach, arguing one man did write them; his name just wasn’t Shakespeare.
The real writer, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), hides his identity to protect his prestigious title. The plot jumps back and forth between his early adulthood and middle age. To me, there was a disconnect between the young, proud Earl, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, and Ifans’ older, flamboyant version. There’s royal scheming, frilly costumes and secret love affairs, like de Vere’s liaison with Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson), resulting in an illegitimate child. All the events in de Vere’s life are reflected later in the plays: a murder through a curtain, a forbidden love, a wise man’s fall into insanity.
Sebastian Armesto plays a young, naïve Ben Jonson, who reluctantly helps de Vere gets his plays performed. The real William Shakespeare, played by Rafe Spall, is ironically a rude, illiterate drunk who lies, steals and murders for fame.
Does director Roland Emmerich really believe that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays? Most likely the director of “Independence Day”, “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” knew nothing sells like a good conspiracy theory these days. “Anonymous” isn’t a historically relevant film genuinely trying to prove anything about Shakespeare. It is just a fun what-if with plenty of lust, suspense and intrigue.
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you’ll love it. If you’re a real Shakespeare fan, you may leave disappointed. What character does Shakespeare’s plays always include? The Fool. Emmerich tries so desperately to be wise, clever and controversial that he makes a fool of the move itself.
Does the authorship really matter, or are the words more important?