What if the world’s greatest playwright was a fraud? This is the conspiracy theory tackled by director Roland Emmerich in his new film Anonymous.
Set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the political drama of her succession, Anonymous poses the theory that Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is the real writer of all the Shakespearean plays we’ve come to know and love. Forced to live with the manipulating William Cecil, a trusted advisor to Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Oxford is forced to give up his talent as a playwright, (considered to be a sin), to help ensure the smooth succession plan of Queen Elizabeth, and stop the Essex Rebellion against her. Unable to just throw his talent away, the Earl decides to deliver his writings to someone he knows will ensure they are seen by the world…and keep his name secret…enter big Will.
Anonymous poses a lot of theoretical questions about Shakespeare and his work. The film keeps you totally engrossed from start to finish, and will have you thinking…yeah, how did someone who was supposedly illiterate, write such fantastic plays, and therein lies the brilliance of this film. Although it’s hard to believe that someone who gave the world Universal Soldiers, would have the ability to tackle such a tough conspiracy theory, Roland Emmerich has indeed succeeded in getting his audience walking out thinking…maybe, just maybe. But credit, where credit is due, Emmerich, (better known for giving us Hollywood blockbusters such as Independence Day and Godzilla), manages to create an absolutely, entirely believable world where William Shakespeare is nothing but an uneducated, womanising buffoon, who takes credit for someone else’s work…telling that story to the world, had to be hard going.
Anonymous also boasts a stellar line up of actors such as Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and David Thewlis to help plant the seed of doubt. Ifans is brilliant as the tortured Earl of Oxford whose creativity is stifled by an equally brilliant David Thewlis as the power hungry, manipulating Cecil. Both men are so engrossed in their character and selling the theory of this story, that their passion is obvious with every word spoken, lending itself more and more to making the theory that much more believable. An honourable mention goes to Raffe Spall, so convincing as the dim witted, sex mad William Shakespeare, who not only provides some much needed comic relief to the drama heavy script, but does an outstanding job convincing the audience that the theory is entirely possible, once we get a load of Shakespeare in full action.
Perhaps the only let down of this film is its length. At just over two hours, the film often gets caught up in the political drama between Queen Liz and the rebellion, rather than the compelling nature of the theory behind who is the real playwright. Had the script stuck purely to the controversial conspiracy, it would have been a tad more punchier and to the point, and made the film a little more accessible to those uneducated about the Elizabethian history.
Nevertheless, whether you believe the theory or not, Anonymous is still a great watch and will forever plant the seed of doubt to the history we all know as William Shakespeare.
– Suzanna Parisi