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.