Anonymous: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?
David ThewlisJoely Richardson...
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
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.