ANONYMOUS directed by Roland Emmerich (UK, 2011)
If you believe that Bush’s government planned the 9/11 attacks, that men didn’t really walk on the moon or that Elvis is still alive, then you’ll have no problem with the central premise of Anonymous. This holds that William Shakespeare did not actually write the plays and sonnets which are regarded as the pinnacle achievements of English literature. Having a couple of bona fide luvvies – Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi – in the cast gives a measure of authenticity to this theory. Since we know so little about Shakespeare’s life, the idea that this was an alias for another author is not completely preposterous. That doesn’t stop this being a bonkers and boring movie that takes huge liberties with historical accuracy.
In this version of events, the ‘Virgin’ Queen Elisabeth I (Redgrave) is anything but chaste and is even a mother while Edward De Vere (Rys Ifans) is the man behind the quill, the true Bard.
.Screenwriter John Orloff takes the scholarly enquiry into the authorship question and adds a number of wild speculations to spice things up still further. German director Emmerich made no such claims of intellectual rigor. He merely did a few internet searches and decided there was something in this story. As the man behind Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich is more concerned with making a cinematic spectacular with an exotic 16th century backdrop. The look of the movie is the best thing about it; the recreation of costumes and Elizabethan London is imaginative and visually splendid. It’s a pity that there wasn’t the same level of commitment to the storytelling. The non linear narrative serves as a smoke screen to mask the numerous plot holes and adds a bogus complexity to what is, in essence, a straightforward tale of power, corruption and lies. Depicting Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) as a semi-literate social climber has plenty of comic potential but this is largely ignored. Instead the tone is pompous and self consciously didactic. What could have been a lively farce therefore becomes a dull and over extended drama.