VOD film review: Anonymous
Selina Pearson | On 07, Apr 2014
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave
Watch Anonymous online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
That Shakespeare didn’t write the plays he’s credited with is not a new idea. The fact that disaster movie veteran Emmerich has made a film about it, though, is quite honestly bizarre. The film posits that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Ifans), is the true author of Shakespeare’s work; as a nobleman, it would, of course, be unseemly for Oxford to be publishing his work. And so he badger’s Benjamin Johnson into performing his plays as part of a cunning plan to sway the populous and get ailing Queen Elizabeth (Redgrave) to name the Earl of Essex heir and wrest the crown away from Scottish King James.
Unfortunately, a drunk moron gets his filthy mitts on the manuscript, and the jammy git William Shakespeare (Spall) claims credit for De Vere’s plays. The only good bit? It keeps Shakespeare off the stage – he has to keep up the pretence that he spends all his time writing.
The problems with Emmerich’s film are numerous. It attempts to mesh political intrigue with the Shakespeare question and winds up all over the place. There are dark scenes reminiscent of Elizabeth, while other segments are comedic and flippant, not unlike Shakespeare in Love. Other parts are entirely ridiculous, and vast chunks of the dialogue are frankly stupid: “Oh my God, you’re WRITING again!” cries De Vere’s wife as though she’s just caught him riffling through the Elizabethan porn.
Timing-wise, it jumps all over the place. It’s told in flashbacks, and flashbacks of flashbacks, and flashbacks of flashbacks or flashbacks; you need to be on the ball to remember where, or more precisely, when, you are. And yet, strangely, this sort of works in its favour – it drags on for over two hours, but you’re so busy working out exactly what is going on that you almost don’t feel the length.
Still, at least the cast are having fun, and no one more so than Spall. Rhys Ifans as the aristocratic De Vere shows that he’s come a long way from his questionable Notting Hill y-fronts (it’s probably the eyeliner), but credit should go to the entire ensemble for keeping a straight face throughout – the film’s so ridiculous that no one will ever take its conspiracies seriously. This conspiracy drama can’t decide whether it’s Shakespeare in Love or Elizabeth and fails at both.