At the Movies: Anonymous

Editor’s Note: I have been informed by The Wife that if I give a positive review to “Anonymous” she will divorce me. And I really can’t afford that right now. Plus, I’m crazy mad in love with her. Plus, if she left she’d probably take The Son with her and I couldn’t handle that. It’s not that big a deal since the movie wasn’t that good but either way, my marriage is more important to me than movie reviewer integrity. 

And no, she hasn’t seen the movie. Bottom line: Don’t mess with Shakespeare if you live with a Shakespeare fanatic.

“Anonymous” opens today in St. Louis and boy, did this movie suck. This movie sucks so bad I wish there were harsher words than “this sucks” to describe it. It fails on every level — direction, script, acting, cinematography, costumes, catering, even whoever typed in all the end credits — it all sucked.

Did it work for me? Are you kidding? I would rather have steel rods jammed in my eyes than watch “Anonymous” again.

OK, is she gone? Now, let’s get serious.

“Anonymous” asks the immortal question: Did William Shakespeare actually write all the famous plays that are attributed to him? As conspiracy theories go, this is a pretty lame one. It hardly ranks up there with Who shot JFK? or Did aliens build the pyramids? But I guess the literati care.

According to director Roland Emmerich’s and writer John Orloff’s version of events, the true author of “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet” and the rest of The Bard’s oeuvre was actually Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans. Edward loved the theater from a young age, but due to his station in life he was unable to express that love publicly.

After witnessing how a live performance can move the common rabble, Edward decides to bring his plays to the people. He tries to enlist the aid of playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), but Ben refuses to put his name to someone else’s work. Ben’s illiterate, actor friend Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is more than willing to take the credit and wallow in the fame that follows.

While an interesting premise, “Anonymous” gets caught up in far too much sexual, political and palace intrigue. Apparently Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), who had a longtime friendship/affair with Edward, was sleeping around and dropping secret illegitimate babies right and left. This eventually reaches the point of absurdity made even more ridiculous by how serious it is presented.

The film is also told in a time-bending fashion that just causes unnecessary confusion early on. You need to clearly establish who the characters are before you start hopping back and forth in time. At times it also feels like a lesser remake of “Amadeus” with Ben stuck in the role of Salieri.

It’s not all bad. The actors are decent and the set designs and period look are effective. But it’s all so convoluted it comes across like a bad imitation Shakespeare play.

Did it work for me? No, but I really wouldn’t jam steel rods in my eyes to avoid seeing it again.

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One response to “At the Movies: Anonymous

  1. The people who believe Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays make a case that looks compelling on the surface, including correspondence between the events of Oxford’s real life and the subject matter of the plays. It is the same, however, as saying, “You were in the neighborhood when my car was vandalized, so you must have done it.” (Serious Shakespeare scholars, by the way, can tell you the actual resources on which Shakespeare based his scripts.) What they don’t get into nearly as much is that Shakespeare wrote more than plays, including dozens of poems. So, are we to believe that Oxford wrote love sonnets for a woman (for instance) then put Shakespeare’s name on them? Computer analysis of all Shakespeare’s works shows that the same person wrote all the stuff that bear’s his name (including personal correspondence), debunking the earlier theory that numerous people were actually responsible for the body of work we currently attribute to him. The single alias (Oxford) theory is more plausible for that reason, but less so in other ways. Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters much who wrote the works of Shakespeare, but I’ve never understood why some are so insistent that it was not William Shakespeare. We can’t prove Homer wrote the Odyssey or that Plato wrote The Republic, but I don’t hear anyone questioning that. People are free to believe whatever they want. There is no way (currently) to prove it, one way or the other, contrary to the case this movie attempts to make.

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