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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Anonymous | Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Jolie Richardson, Rafe Spall | Review

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Anonymous

William Shakespeare, aka “The Bard”, is considered to be the greatest playwright that ever lived.

Yet, over the years there has been conjecture and rumor surrounding the man and his writings. I vividly recall my high school literature teacher speculating that although 'good old Will' was credited with writing over 37 plays and almost 200 sonnets and poems, he might have never actually penned any of them himself.

So, if Shakespeare wasn't this great writer we were led to believe, than who was he, and who was it that wrote his body of work. According to 'Anonymous' which was scripted by John Orloff, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is depicted as an illiterate buffoon. The real writer of Shakespeare's entire list of works was a nobleman, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans). His passion was writing, but he was forced to keep his penned works a secret. In Elizabethan England of the 16th century writing was considered beneath his aristocratic status, and so the Earl recruited a playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to be his stand in. When he declined, the flamboyant actor, Shakespeare, eagerly stepped in to claim credit.

Writing wasn't the nobleman's only secret. Although Elizabeth was known as the “virgin” Queen, she wasn't as chaste or pure as history would have you believe. The Queen (played by Vanessa Redgrave as the older version and real life daughter Joely Richardson, perfectly cast, as her younger self, ) reportedly gave birth to several bastard children, and had an incestuous relationship with her first born, who grew up to be the Earl of Oxford (played by Jamie Campbell Bower, as his younger version, who looks nothing like Ifans, his older counterpart).

Director Roland Emmerich known for his big budget, blockbuster disaster movies (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) switches genres for this costume drama. As a historical mumbo jumbo, told in multiple flashbacks, it only goes to prove he should stick with what he does best. The cinematography, set decoration and costume design are gorgeous, but you would need a course in Elizabethan history to follow the confusing behind the scenes political machinations and scheming surrounding the not so virginal Queen by her closest advisor, the manipulative William Cecil (David Thewlis) and his hunchback son Robert (Edward Hogg) that figures into the narrative.

A surprise for movie buffs has got to be Rhys Ifans, whom audiences are familiar with for his portrayal of wacky, comedic characters. This dramatic part is a total change of pace for the actor who is given a chance to stretch his acting ability and he effectively delivers the goods as the brooding, troubled Edward de Vere.

Anonymous is a handsome looking period piece with good performances by the entire cast. Nonetheless, it is hampered by a complicated, melodramatic story, and its often confusing back and forth time structure, which is a turn off for the average film goer. The question is, does Anonymous offer a good enough argument with convincing evidence to support the intriguing theory that Shakespeare was a fraud? That is to be or not to be decided by the viewer.

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