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Anonymous: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?
A dramatisation of the conspiracy theories shedding doubt on Shakespeare’s authenticity, Anonymous postulates that the real author behind Shakespeare’s masterpieces was actually a nobleman and Earl of Oxford Edward De Vere (Ifans). Born during a time where being a playwright was considered a lowly profession, one not befitting his name or station in life, De Vere was forced to release them under the name of another man. He had intended for them to be released under the name of playwright Ben Jonson (Armesto) however something went wrong during the first performance of his first play and the barely literate actor Will Shakespeare (Spall) ended up taking the credit for it. As a result, all of De Vere’s subsequent plays came out under Shakespeare’s name with Jonson stewing in a mix of rage and jealousy acting as a messenger between them.
The film is told against the backdrop of Elizabethan England at a time when the queen was old, in bad health and refusing to name an heir to the throne. Her right-hand man William Cecil (Thewlis) tries to convince her that King James of Scotland would be the right man for the job whereas the Earl of Essex, a Tudor, backed by his best friend the Earl of Southampton, would prefer the throne for himself. De Vere is caught between the two. On the one hand Cecil is his father in law and on the other the Earl of Southampton is his illegitimate son.
Armesto’s voice teeters on the brink of Christian-Bale-as-Batman levels of absurdity. He has to screw up his whole face and stick out his chin to get the level of gruffness he’s aiming for and who knows why he even tries? Put nicely; he both looks and sounds ridiculous. We barely find out anything about Shakespeare except that he’s an opportunistic, cocky lout. Queen Elizabeth is played as a flighty teenager, acting brashly when it comes to affairs of the heart. She has to be restrained by Cecil who despite being her subordinate acts more like a father figure. Thankfully, the film does have one decent performance in Ifans’ De Vere who comes across as a man trapped due to his privilege. A man who has to resort to lies to be able to practice the one thing that gives him joy.
Naturally for a period piece, the costumes are beautiful and so are the sets except that they frequently, during the aerial shots at least, look very computer generated. The passage of time in the film is not successful. The film is filled with flashbacks that aren’t easy to keep track of and Bower who plays a young De Vere looks nothing like Ifans who plays his older counterpart. The film has a very muddled ‘culture not bombs’ message and tries to make the point that De Vere wrote the plays with the expressed intention of inciting a rebellion. Also, there’s a montage of the various plays that is supposed to signify Shakespeare’s success and the greatness of De Vere’s plays. The thing is, you can’t just hear little snatches of different plays and be expected to connect with the material and revel in the glory of the prose. Especially as this is the part that’s supposed to convince the viewer of the implausibility of someone as uneducated as Shakespeare coming up with a series of works as grand as this.
A two hour film that feels at least triple that length, Anonymous is slow, rambling and has some hilariously awful performances. In fact, had it not been for Ifans and the costumes, the film wouldn’t even be worth watching.
The local church choir in Pacashau, Georgia come in second at the regional competitions every single year. Luckily for them, though, their main rivals are disqualified and they get a chance to compete at the nationals. G.G. (Parton), the church’s main benefactor, and Vi Rose (Latifah), the choir leader, have to put aside their rivalry and turn their choir into a serious contender for the national title. Vi Rose wants to stick to their tried and tested choir staples, while Randy (Jordan), G.G.’s troublesome grandson who happens to have a thing for Vi Rose’s daughter Olivia (Palmer), wants to freshen things up with some reworked pop songs and choreography.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.