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Anonymous - Review

Rhys Ifans in Anonymous

Review by Tim Carson

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

THE idea of Roland Emmerich – the man who brought us blockbuster disaster movies like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and most recently 2012 directing a film about Shakespeare is at first a bit of a shock. But study things a little closer and it’s not such a great leap.

Emmerich loves a good theory as the basis for his films (we’ve had global warming and the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world) and there are plenty of theories about whether William Shakespeare was really the author of all the plays attributed to him.

Emmerich and scriptwriter John Orloff have taken one such theory – that the 17th Earl of Oxford was really the man behind the plays – and created a hugely enjoyable historical romp from it. How true or credible any of it is is debatable – yes there’s plenty of support for the theory that Oxford was the author but a little bit of reading and it seems there are also plenty of historical inaccuracies in the film.

It’s probably best therefore to treat Anonymous as as much a work of fiction as Shakespeare In Love or Independence Day. And on those terms it’s a creditable success.

Orloff weaves a story of political intrigue and an unlikely romance into the authorship mystery and Emmerich creates a vision of London that is as spectacular – he had more than 70 sets built in Germany including a full-scale replica of The Rose theatre – as the spaceships of Independence Day or the destruction in 2012.

He also assembles a very strong British cast with Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford, Joely Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, David Thewlis as William Cecil and Rafe Spall as Shakespeare.

The drama centres on Oxford and his relationships with Elizabeth and the playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) who he initially chooses to be the “author” of the plays he has been writing since childhood. Johnson helps get the plays put on with Henry V going down a storm with the masses and actor William Shakespeare (a suitably slippery, conniving Rafe Spall) claiming the credit.

Meanwhile, Oxford’s friend the Earl of Essex is trying to ensure his succession to the throne after Elizabeth’s death rather than James VI of Scotland, who the Queen’s advisers William Cecil and then his son Robert Cecil are pushing. Naturally, the two threads overlap and there are plenty of twists and a few nasty turns before the end.

For the most part the director keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and handles the court scenes with as much style and skill as the more spectacular and passionate ones in the inns and theatres of Bankside. That said there are times when the film does drag and the chopping and changing from one time period to another can be irritating and a little confusing.

The cast is definitely a strength and helps give the film weight and there are some stand-out scenes in the theatre that bring home once again just how special Shakespeare’s plays are regardless of who wrote them.

While Anonymous might not be one for the purists it’s a surprisingly entertaining and fun film that’s far from the disaster movie one might have feared after seeing the names Shakespeare and Roland Emmerich put together.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 130mins
UK Release Date: October 28, 2011