To see or not to see “Anonymous:” that is the question. In telling the story of Shakespeare, one would hardly expect to find even close to the same brilliant dialogue, political intrigue or depth of human emotion that embody a large portion of Shakespeare’s work. Yet, it seems that writer John Orloff was intent on at least reflecting these features in his story about Shakespeare, or actually, the story about the person that some argue actually wrote the Shakespeare plays. Brilliant acting, intriguing plot and a wonderfully imagined London (including, of course, the Globe Theatre) bring the world of Shakespeare to life in ”Anonymous.” While it is a good movie, it is no “dish fit for the gods.”
To say that this story is “ahistorical” would be an understatement. The history in this movie is about as historical as Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The timeline, and the events are arranged to the plot in a very favorable way, and there were certainly many creative liberties taken with the historical portrayal of the characters. Despite how much these things may have bothered me, I had to remind myself (as I think others should) that it is a movie meant for entertainment, not a serious Shakespeare biography that answers whether he did or did not write the plays for which he is famous. Even with the obvious inaccuracies, I still found the story to be tremendously entertaining. Shakespeare the drunk, Ben Johnson the jealous and Elizabeth I as a lustful young woman are all intriguing portrayals of historical figures never seen quite in this same light before. If one truly disregards the inaccuracies and takes it as the entertainment that it is meant to be, it is really a fun movie.
Rhys Ifans leads the cast as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford and the proposed “true writer” of the Shakespeare plays. Along with David Thewlis (Harry Potter films) as William Cecil and Joely Richardson (The Patriot, Nip/Tuck) as the young Elizabeth I, the film has a solid cast. Edward de Vere’s story is one of politics, betrayal, lust and the struggle to express the human soul above all else. As it turns out, despite having the inheritance and heredity to become one of the most powerful men in England, de Vere chooses to be a writer. Despite all that the film entails, the story sets out to show that the power of the words are more important than the politics or violence that surround it. In fact, without giving anything away, it is in one of the scenes where Ben Johnson finally tells de Vere what he thinks of his writings, where one of the most emotional exchanges in the movie takes place.
“Anonymous” has some bothersome flaws besides the inaccuracies, however. The introduction and departure of various characters without much explanation or characterization is a bit overwhelming at times. Also, there was significant room for development of Robert Cecil’s character and his relationship with de Vere, an interesting aspect of the story that seemed to be ignored for too much of the film. Overall, though, it was a highly entertaining take on the true history of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. So, back to our question from the beginning, and here is my answer: “Anonymous” is a flawed but entertaining film. I say, see it.
by Kevin Benninger