2011, Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Thewlis. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by John Orloff.
William Shakespeare may not have written all those plays and sonnets and what-not that have his name on them? I have to admit I never gave it much thought. Apparently, others have.
I am a big fan of several Roland Emmerich films, namely: Stargate, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012. Every time I start listing Roland Emmerich movies, I almost forget about The Patriot, which is not all that surprising as it doesn’t seem to fit in the longer list of sci-fi/fantasy/doomsday features. So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed on the coming attractions last summer that Anonymous was directed by Mr. Emmerich. In one way it makes perfect sense – recreating Elizabethan England in glorious detail with CGI must be a little bit similar to creating alien invasions or bringing herds of woolly mammoths to life. But how does anyone go about making an entertaining movie that postulates William Shakespeare was a fraud? I mean, isn’t that the kind of thing you find on “Preposterous Stories and Conspiracy Theories” on cable TV?
The previews looked pretty interesting and my curiosity was piqued; if old Will Shakespeare didn’t write all those works attributed to him, who could it have been? Besides, I would enjoy seeing that time and place brought realistically to the big screen. So I made plans to see it with two friends, one of whom was adamantly insistent that it would be a terrible travesty, a blasphemous defamation to even suggest that Shakespeare’s works were not his own. I agreed that it was a pretty far-fetched theory, but it could make for an interesting movie nonetheless.
The movie was not only very good, it was riveting. It’s a political thriller centered around the issue of succession – who would assume the throne after Elizabeth I? The intricate complexities of court intrigue were at times a bit difficult to follow (the extent of my knowledge of that period of history comes more from seeing a handful of episodes of The Tudors and the occasional History Channel special than any real scholarly pursuit) but I managed to not get lost. The issue of succession was so critical to so many rich and powerful people that some would not stop at murder to gain the outcome most favorable to them. What does any of this have to do with who wrote the works of Shakespeare? Manipulation of the popular media for political purposes! For an illiterate populace, seeing stage plays was frequently more than just mere entertainment; it was a means of communicating ideas about the current political climate and information about people in power. Emmerich’s Anonymous suggests that the true author of the works in question used certain plays with specific themes to make statements about corruption in high places and to rouse the citizenry to action.
My skeptical movie companion was unswayed by the end of the movie and is still a devout believer in William Shakespeare being the true author. She thinks the movie was horrible. I disagree – not about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, that’s absurd! I think it was a pretty good movie with great performances. Don’t think of it as revisionist history, think of it as an alternate reality. Either way, we still have those wonderful plays and sonnets and what-not that were written by a real genius.
Mairead Cremins – Food and Flicks reblogged this on Crème de la Crème.
Ok, here I am, the unswayed movie-goer who thought that Anonymous was a bunch of hyped up tripe. I agree that Mr. Emmerich did a good job at recreating Elizabethan England. And I do understand that there are some scholars that make a compelling argument that William Shakespeare did not author the works with which he is attributed. HOWEVER…
On the whole, I am not a fan of Mr. “I’ve destroyed the earth more ways than anyone ever imagined and now I have turned to destroying the greatest genius in English literature” Emmerich. With the exceptions of Independence Day and The Patriot, I think his movies are a ton of CGI frosting over a burned, fallen and tasteless cake that is devoid of character development or decent plot. So when I heard that he was at the helm of this atrocity about the Shakespeare controversy I was not surprised. Writer John Orloff should have been stopped by whoever calls himself Orloff’s best friend before this over-reaching script ever made it to his desktop printer, similar to when my best friend gives it to me straight and tells me that the shirt I just tried on isn’t very flattering. Everyone appreciates that kind of honesty so you don’t wind up looking like an idiot in the end. But Orloff’s BFF perpetrated an epic fail and just told him that that pair of pants made him look sexy and let him walk out of the dressing room looking like two ham hocks were fighting in the seat of his pants–i.e., he let this script make its way to production.
Now, don’t despair…there are a few positive things I can say about this movie. 1) Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Thewlis each turned in great performances. But hey, that’s what they do! They are great actors. Too bad they weren’t given anything worth working with in this instance. 2) The scene was set very well. The CGI, sets and costumes were probably the most entertaining parts of this movie. 3) My ticket was free. It was worth every penny.
The crux of my issue with this movie is more of a social commentary than a movie review. I work at a library and I see how hard it is to get teens in there at all, much less reading the classics. If you remember the saavy lesson that was taught in South Park the Movie: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, many young people rush off to go see a movie of historical or literary importance because it says “Based on a true story” or “Based on the life and times of XXXX” or “Based on the best-selling novel” in the trailer and accept every facet of the movie as fact. I wasn’t around in the 1600’s to provide a first-hand account that I saw William Shakespeare touch pen to paper and write some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking words of all time, but having spent a great deal of time and energy reading history books about the Tudors and Elizabeth I, I think I can definitely say that some of the allegations this movie made were pure fantasy.
In fact, if you look at the social commentary of Anonymous–that the power of words enacted on a stage in Elizabethan England was the way to reach the masses and tell them what to think about, then I could say it is absolute irony that the same could be said about seeing this movie. It is merely a vehicle to incite debate about whether or not Shakespeare was a fraud and whether or not the royals were pawns of cruel and sickly twisted fate. Debate is great. I love it. I welcome it. However, please let us debate about things that are based in fact.
Crappy premise, crappy script, crappy plot=crappy movie. I’m glad you enjoyed it, but I’m also glad I didn’t contribute one cent to this drivel.