Movie review: Anonymous

By Peter Calder

3 comments
Rhys Ifans as Edward De Vere in Anonymous. Photo / Supplied
Rhys Ifans as Edward De Vere in Anonymous. Photo / Supplied

The idea that someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works is rooted in intellectual snobbery - a refusal to believe that a non-nobleman with, at best, a grammar-school education could command the breadth and depth of knowledge and sensitivity that are showcased in the plays and poems.

This version, penned by John Orloff who wrote the Daniel Pearl drama A Mighty Heart, backs one of the three most popular candidates: Edward De Vere (Ifans), the 17th Earl of Oxford, who was first proposed by a Tyneside schoolmaster with what Bryson calls the "inescapably noteworthy" name of Looney.

The presence of director Emmerich (Godzilla, Independence Day) in the director's chair encourages us to expect a costume romp, not a scholarly discourse. And so it proves: technically, Anonymous is rather impressive. Emmerich, true to his high-tech roots, delivers a CGI Elizabethan London seen from the air, cannon-fire and gunfights - you half-expect a car chase.

Meanwhile, some of the performances are profoundly impressive: the masterful Redgrave as the old, powdered Elizabeth is a portrait brought to life (though more feckless and dithering than the ruthless figure historians have given us), and there are some standouts in supporting roles, notably Thewlis and Hogg as the younger and older Cecils, Elizabeth's scheming and manipulative confidants.

The story comes laced with knowing references to the plays. It is entertaining, but you really have to swallow some of the most awful bollocks along the way: Oxford becomes an obsessed artist (he says it's "the voices ... I can't stop them" that drive his prolific output) who drives his family to ruin and cannot identify himself because the theatre is such a shameful pursuit.

The rest includes illegitimacy (that was no Virgin Queen), incest and deep political intrigue.

Meanwhile William Shakespeare (Spall) is an illiterate, drunken, womanising, bludging, blackmailing fraud - and a mere footnote in the story.

As a polished period piece, it has merit, but really it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg
Director: Roland Emmerich
Running time: 130 Mins
Rating: M (Violence, Sex Scenes)
Verdict: Entertaining bollocks.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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