“ Genre: Drama / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Roland Emmerich / Actors: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Xavier Samuel ... / DVD released 2012-03-05 at Sony Pictures Home Ent. / Features of the DVD: PAL „
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I realised I have not written many film reviews in some time. I'm not sure I like my present format, so this one might be a little different. I think this film itself has inspired me to alter my writing style, too.
Shakespeare is a name known worldwide, and conjures up images of romance, tragedy and flowery literature. The plays and works are known worldwide, frequently quoted and used in probably every English Literature class. Unique and perhaps difficult for most of us to get our heads around, this is the sort of work that cannot be produced by just anyone. But what if Shakespeare himself was just 'anyone', fortunate enough to come by the works of another person, and simply put his name to the work. What if he could not even write a single letter?
This film, Anonymous, explores a historical theory that the plays and also poetry were in fact written by a nobleman, who sought to keep his own name hidden from the records, since creative writing was not a 'noble' pastime and his own family disapproved. At a time when the succession of the throne after Elizabeth I is a mystery yet to be solved, with growing competition between supporters of the Earl of Essex and James, son of Mary Queen of Scots, somehow Edward, Earl of Oxford hopes to have his influence through his plays.
Some further, perhaps even more shocking revelations occur during this film, which those with some historical knowledge may not be so surprised by, but for me, they truly made me look at those Tudor stories told at school in a completely new light. It amuses me to think that our primary school teachers felt comfortable discussing gory methods of execution, but not the bizarre social and sexual behaviours of the aristocracy of the time.
In fact, this film does the reverse. Finally we, as adults (and really this film is only for adults), are granted access to a whole new side to the story, yet the crude living standards and horrific torture chambers and executions are shielded from us. I found this a little frustrating at times, and it made everything seem a little less convincing, but I was still able to appreciate that this has a lot to do with not wanting to diverge too far from the plot.
The second thing I became very conscious of was the fact that this play was so blatantly and unashamedly biased. On the one hand we have the Queen's advisors, often portrayed in films as manipulative and scheming. This film was certainly no exception there. On the other, we have the conveniently handsome, mostly blond Earls that are being prevented from sharing their true intentions with her Majesty. I found this aspect of the story hard to believe, and I suspect the conspiracy theories go just a little too far.
The actors are not particularly familiar to me at all, apart from Vanessa Redgrave, who plays a much more realistic and human version of Queen Elizabeth I than we often see. The styles did, however, seem a little inconsistent, with some players seeking to deliver this story in a contemporary manner, like our Shakespeare, who spoke like many ordinary people in my own home town might. Others seemed to be following the traditional style of period drama acting, and this made me feel like I wasn't really sure whether all of these people were on the same planet. This might have been why some characters disappointed me, as they seemed just a little too textbook for my liking.
There are some scenes of shootings, sword-fights and sex, but is clear that this is not the primary focus of the film. In most cases, the story shuffles on quickly enough, and the camera is not there to show us any detail. On the other hand, the costumes and sets were exactly as I have always imagined things would have been in that period, just a lot cleaner. The soundtrack was also very appropriate, but as with any period drama, it pretty much blended into the background for me. I was willing to accept that the effects would not be too powerful in this film, but it was something that might have made a good film great. Instead it did all seem a little subdued.
I'd have to admit that in spite of its flaws and weaknesses, I enjoyed this film and watched it twice. I opened, appropriately, I guess, with a modern-day play setting where a narrator is about to tell us this whole story, and closes with his conclusions. This I thought was an interesting and fitting way to introduce and close this film, and in a way it makes you aware that this is just an alternative perspective proposed to us. We are still free to choose what we wish to believe.
I guess I am just a sucker for any stories based on the Tudor period. It was always my favourite period of history, and I am always keen to learn more about who's who and what they did. I am now truly undecided on what really happened, and this film has really made me question everything I know. It is frustrating to think we will never really know the truth, for sure, but I am glad I watched this film. . I recommend, just because you have to be a little curious...
Being a bit of an English nerd, I was quite excited to hear that there was a film coming out about one of the many conspiracy stories of one of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare. Not to mention, that every time I went shopping at Westfield, which, by the way, was an awful lot, I saw the trailer being repeatedly played on that massive screen they have set up outside the shopping centre. I was slightly dissuaded by the bad reviews of this movie online and so I decided to not go and see this film in the cinema; however, I was pleased to find that they were playing it on the airplane on my way to from Chicago so I watched it absolutely free then.
This film basically questions what many have before, who wrote all the masses and masses of works credited to one William Shakespeare. This film is set within the political atmosphere of the Elizabethan Court and Lord Oxford is presented as the true author of the many works of 'William Shakespeare'. Being a Lord, writing plays wasn't really something that he was able to share with the world and so he paid an actor to pretend to write his plays in order to get them onto the stage of the famous Globe Theatre. At the same time De Vere, or Lord Oxford, has a love affair with the Queen and with her, he sires a child. This is something that turns out to be incredibly important nearer the end of the film through one of the most shocking plot twists I've ever seen.
Anonymous is defined as a political thriller and a pseudo-historical drama film. I've always been a big fan of fictionalised history because when a story is loosely based on true events I find that it's usually a lot more believable. This was true, to some extent, for Anonymous; however, I felt that as the film progresses it became less and less believable. For people who don't have much historical knowledge, they probably thought this film was absolutely bonkers though I wouldn't be that surprised if these events had actually happened as they did some pretty strange things back in the day. I'm no expert on Shakespearian history, but the general atmosphere of the film seemed to tie in with the way of life back then.
I have to admit that the plot was not at all easy to follow and I found some scenes thoroughly confusing. There were quite a lot of scene changes in which they showed snippets from the past which involved different actors playing the younger versions of the characters and I found it a little hard to keep up with who was who. Adding to the confusion was the fact that this film was a play within a play within a play. If you can wrap your head around this, then it is rather a nice touch; however, if you get left behind, you'll probably never catch up.
On the other hand, the cast was made up of a number of brilliant actors including Jamie Campbell Bower, Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Sir Derek Jacobi, Xavier Samuel and many more. It is a little hard to judge the actors on their merits when the plot is all over the place but I believe the actors did a good job of translating the script to screen. I do not think it was the acting that brought this film down for critics, but rather the plot line. There was some really solid acting from Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and Jamie Campbell Bower and I believe that they really embodied their seventeenth century characters.
The best thing for me about this film was probably the costume and scenery. There were some absolutely magnificent and scenic views of 'Old' England so I suppose that's a huge thumbs up to the location scouter. In addition, the makeup, the costumes and the set were fantastic and looked very authentic adding to the credibility of this film. However, I did not like the character Shakespeare at all. Whilst the point of this movie was to show Shakespeare as a fraud, I didn't feel that the representation of his character was accurate or believable at all. I seem to remember Shakespeare even crowd surfing at one point. This is by no means a criticism of the actor, but of the way that the character Shakespeare was written in the script. His character is obnoxious and I just cannot believe that the great Shakespeare could actually have been a power-hungry actor. Again, I suppose this was the point.
All in all, this movie isn't bad at all. Whilst the plot was confusing at times, there was some brilliant acting and the effect of the visual was magnificent. This is definitely a film for English or history nerds, though this film is truly mind boggling at times so I wouldn't recommend this for those who like light hearted and simple films. If you are an English nerd, prepare for your dreams of what William Shakespeare was like to be shattered and you will probably also be a little angry that the producers even considered making a movie about a fraudulent Shakespeare. However, it is interesting to know what conspiracy theories there are surrounding the world's greatest writer.
OUT ON DVD ON THE 5TH MARCH 2012
About the film
Anonymous is a political/ historical thriller that was released at the cinema in late 2011 and on DVD in March of this year. The film has as 12 rating due to scenes of mild violence, nudity and the language used. Anonymous has a run time of 130 minutes.
Set during Elizabethan England, Anonymous sets out to tackle the question of who should really be credited with writing the plays known as those of William Shakespeare. The film covers the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the run of events that led up to the Essex Rebellion. In the midst of all of this happening, the film explores the notion that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was in fact the true author of so many plays and goes about explaining his reasons for hiding his true identity as a playwright.
Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I of England
Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson
David Thewlis as William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Edward Hogg as Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Xavier Samuel as Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
Sam Reid as Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Jamie Campbell Bower as young Oxford.
Joely Richardson as young Queen Elizabeth.
Trystan Gravelle as Christopher Marlowe
Robert Emms as Thomas Dekker
Tony Way as Thomas Nashe
Sir Derek Jacobi as Narrator
Mark Rylance as Henry Condell.
John Keogh as Philip Henslowe.
Helen Baxendale as Anne de Vere.
Amy Kwolek as Young Anne de Vere.
What I thought
So far on my degree I have taken two classes about the Renaissance period. This obviously highly surrounds the works of William Shakespeare and it is quite safe to say that I have an interest in this subject. After seeing the trailer for Anonymous, I was dying to see it, even after hearing complaints from my lecturers.
Anonymous begins very dramatically with the setting of a theatre and one man telling us that this will be a new, different story about Shakespeare. I really loved the opening to this film because it was so demanding of my attention and exciting. The one man on a stage makes it very hard to not give this film your full attention and to wonder what you are about to learn about the history of Shakespeare and his work.
Many of the characters in Anonymous are playwrights of this period, with Ben Jonson playing quite a large role. Jonson is depicted as quite a weak little man who is a bit whiney and annoying but at the same time; he knows what he wants his plays to say and won't do anything differently no matter what anyone says. Jonson is a big part of getting 'Shakespeare's' plays to the stage and I really liked the way that his character contrasted so much with many of the others, especially the other playwrights and the aristocracy.
Rhys Ifans plays Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford and is utterly amazing in the role. As a character, de Vere has a bit of a split personality. While he is being the Earl, he is strong and demanding but there is a much softer, much more sensitive side to him as well. Anonymous shows flashbacks of de Vere as a young man (played by Jamie Campbell Bower who is also as good) so that we get to understand his love for the written word and the theatre and how he came to be the man he is now. I really enjoyed being able to see the whole story behind de Vere because this way, I got to understand him completely.
The whole film is about the idea that Shakespeare didn't ever write anything himself. The reasoning behind thinking this and who wrote everything instead was a little weak in my eyes but only because I don't know the history too well. However, I do think it quite plausible that this could have happened in some way even if I don't think it actually did. Putting an idea like that in my mind certainly got me thinking about 'what ifs' though.
Anonymous is also really well paced. While there is quite a lot going on for most of the time, the flashbacks sometimes provide a little down time and a lot of explanation which was good. In between plot and reasoning are also brawls, arguments and love and romance. This is not a film solely about Shakespeare but also of our country, its history and the monarchy. Even if you aren't totally interested in Shakespeare, this film has a lot to offer other than that.
As you can see, I really enjoyed this film and would happily watch it again.
Was Shakespeare a fraud? Have I been hating the wrong man for years and years ever since all the English literature classes, the painful, tear/headache-inducing analytical essays, and the incomprehensible plays, poems and sonnets almost ruined my GCSE years? The generally accepted idea is that no, Shakespeare was not a fake and wrote all of his work, but the debate will go on, new evidence will be found, and the sceptics will always find holes in the already laid-out, widely known historical events. It's an interesting notion though, something that shouldn't possibly be glanced over with immediate dismissal. If there is compelling reason to actually doubt the authorship of William Shakespeare, the man who has been THE icon of English literature for centuries, then bring it on, which is what the brave Roland Emmerich sets out to do.
Yes, the director of "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Day After Tomorrow," and "2012," or better known as, the man who loves destroying our beloved planet Earth, is the man directing a thought-provoking, "what-if" period piece. A sudden change in genre for sure, but Emmerich's "Anonymous" is just as intense and exciting as when he spent millions and millions of dollars sucking every last breath out of the human race. Set in Elizabethan England, London is transformed into a grim, damp place of greed, betrayal, jealousy and a whole load of back-stabbing (always a fantastic set-up when starting off to tell a dark and twisted tale wrapped around lie after lie). This type of moral corruption extends to people of all social classes, from the grey streets of the English capital, to the colourful royal courts where the ageing, mentally unstable Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) rules her country with a firm set of hands along with her ever-so menacingly humongous dresses and frightening make-up.
A firm prologue, like many Shakespeare's plays, delivered with conviction by Derek Jacobi, sets the tone - that William Shakespeare never wrote a single word of "his" work. How is this possible? First, there's Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), whose brilliance with his words and prose came to life even at a young age. Playing the character of Puck from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the age of ten, he even enchanted the then-young Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave's daughter Joely Richardson). But writing plays is no job for an Earl, especially when his father-in-law, William Cecil (David Thewlis), a close advisor to the Queen, vehemently protests anything involving art or theatre. He claims that theatre is the product of worshipping false idols. So no more literature for the unlucky de Vere.
One day however, he stumbles on something extraordinary. A crowd of two-thousand people being moved and united through one play, and one play alone. With better material, he theorises that he could bring the house down, and especially during this volatile political climate caused by the uncertainty surrounding the ascension to throne after Elizabeth's impending death, he wisely sees that controlling the people with words is not only effective, but also crucial. He approaches Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), a virtually unknown playwright, to stage his plays for him. For years, he has spent hours putting ink to paper, completing works such as "Macbeth," "Hamlet," "Twelfth Night," "Julius Caesar" and many more. By complete accident however, a good-for-nothing, idiotic drunk called Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) ends up taking the writer's credit. He's illiterate too, but the crowd doesn't know that. They immediately embrace this literary genius, and are moved by his words one production after another.
Success and money corrupt Shakespeare and his arrogant, obnoxious behaviour slowly starts to get on Jonson's nerves. Spall is so good as the slimy, ambitious yet hilariously stupid Shakespeare, a horrifying portrayal for anyone who respects and admires the man, but a new angle and original spin is a welcome change, and Spall is an invaluable presence. Our sympathy goes out to Jonson more than to anyone else, and Armesto plays the frustrations of a wronged with enough intensity and anger.
Flashbacks that are comprehensibly placed and edited in reveal more than expected, diving more into the intimate sides of de Vere and Queen Elizabeth. Even more disturbing twists and turns are presented, with dirty political back-dealings and secrets that have been buried for years starting to make an appearance, Emmerich injects more immensely dynamic and entertaining drama whilst enriching characters' background stories. The subplots hardly ever have happy endings, and the brutal, cut-throat fight for power is a good fun romp, with many seedy characters pitching in for numerous unpredictable developments. The restricted, harsh palace life with volatile dynamic is boosted by the dark scenery made even more sinister by plenty of shadows coming from hundreds of candles.
Ifans is effortlessly convincing in the role of a literary genius, and no matter how hard it may be to believe that de Vere can whip out a stirring play in a matter of days, the struggles of an oppressed genius, trapped in a society of strict boundaries is shown well in his character's passion for the theatre and seeing his work have such a massive influence on the people. One feels sorry for the guy, not being able to pursue his dreams, and not get the most out of his rare gift. The double mother-daughter casting for Queen Elizabeth works brilliantly here, as hints of Richardson in Elizabeth's youth can be seen later in Redgrave, both of whom are magnetic in their same role. Redgrave is particularly outstanding in her pivotal role; she holds so much power, but she is deteriorating in both her physical and mental conditions. This makes her the perfect target for snarky, selfish "advisors" to poison with their venomous lies, adding another layer of treacherous palace drama to the already packed narrative.
Whether you believe in this Oxfordian theory or not is of course, entirely up to you. But "Anonymous" is a confident, fun, and most importantly, original take on what was thought to be a well-known tale. It would serve well as a period thriller even for those who aren't fans of, or too familiar with Shakespeare and his works. Emmerich shows plenty of promise in directing films outside his usual disaster-film genre, and he has managed to create one of the most exciting guilty pleasures of this year.
(film only review)
Was Shakespeare Shakespeare? Was the man from Stratford on Avon who lived in London as an actor and part owner of a playing company the author of 38 plays, 154 sonnets and several other poems? Or did someone else write them? If so, who did and why did this person hide behind Shakespeare's name?
Shakespeare's authorship was first questioned in the middle of the 19th century. Some prominent public figures such as Mark Twain, Henry James, James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles shared the doubts of the anti-Stratfordians that Shakespeare, who was very likely raised in an illiterate household, was the author of the most profound thoughts ever put into writing. All in all more than 70 (!) authorship candidates have been proposed over the years.
Although there have been some prominent Germans among the doubters, a veritable tsunami of outrage arose when the German director of Hollywood fame, Roland Emmerich, made a film on the topic. His decision to make a small-small film after gaining the nickname Master of Disaster for films like Independence Day and 2012 puzzled many people - as if he has to justify the topics he makes films on. He self-financed the entire film, this allowed him total control of the film without studio interference. That he assaulted the English national literary saint William Shakespeare, however, was too much. Out came the Nazi club, even the Guardian didn't hesitate to point out that the film was made in the studios of Potsdam-Babelsberg in Germany which were taken over by the Nazis in 1933. So what? What has this to do with anything?
The film opens with an actor dressed in modern clothes walking across a stage and introducing us to the question of Shakespeare's authorship. The fact that he's Sir Derek Jacobi, a famous actor who's played many Shakepeare characters, is lost on foreigners as he isn't known overseas. But British ignoramuses won't know him, either. After the introduction he opens the curtain and the play begins. Yes, it's a play, Emmerich doesn't maintain that things indeed happened the way we're going to see but that they may have - or not at all.
The playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) is seen running through muddy alleyways clutching a bundle of manuscripts under his arms. He reaches a theatre and hides them in a metal chest under the stage, then he's caught by soldiers and the theatre is burnt to the ground. This scene is important to refute the claim that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, couldn't have been the author of 'Shakespeare's' plays because some of them appeared only after his death. At the end of the film we see Ben Jonson finding the charred manuscripts the Earl wrote ahead so-to-speak.
De Vere (Rhys Ifans), a highly educated aesthete, who refuses to engage in political intrigues and also in his frustrating family life *has* to write, thoughts and words come to him and he feels sick if he can't put quill to paper. Sadly, he can't claim authorship of his works as writing plays is a no-no for a nobleman in those days. He intends to make Ben Jonson his mouthpiece but the young playwright has scruples and can't be won over at once. The actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) sees the plays lying around, realises at once what's going on and seizes the opportunity. De Vere is shocked when he sees Shakespeare taking credit for his plays, but he can't get out of the mess, in fact he's in the actor's hands who doesn't refrain from blackmailing him. Spall plays Shakespeare as a buffoon, dumb and sly at the same time, a boozer and whoremonger. He's capable of reading the texts he has to learn for his plays but can't write a single word. What a contrast to Rhys Ifans' world-weary, melancholy nobleman! And this is the same actor who played the bum in Notting Hill? I can't believe it. Whereas German tabloids inform us about every belch and fart of Hugh Grant, I've never read a single line on Rhys Ifans. What a shame! In Anonymous he reminds me of the young Peter O'Toole (the only actor I've ever had a crush on). Not that he looks like him, but I find he has the same minimal facial expressions, the slightest twitching of the corner of the mouth, the raising of an eyebrow and the same sad look. Excellent!
Of course, Vanessa Redgrave's Queen Elizabeth is also worth watching the film for. She's really old and frail, at the age of 76 she obviously doesn't have to put on an act to appear so. Flashbacks (the young Queen is played by Joely Richardson, young de Vere by Jamie Campbell Bower) show that she was anything but the 'Virgin Queen'. The relationship scriptwriter John Orloff and director Roland Emmerich let the Queen and the nobleman have may seem too far-fetched for some, but Emmerich admits to stretching and twisting the plot the way he sees it fitting - and why not. Vanessa Redgrave is quoted to have said, "You got her right", she also sees Queen Elizabeth I as vain, ingénue like and foxy.
The topic of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays is mingled with intrigues at court. Sadly, this is where the film loses one star for me. When I studied English literature, I also had to inform myself about English history. This was about 45 years ago, so my knowledge is like a Swiss cheese now. Yet, I consider myself to be better informed than most spectators. But concentrate as I might, I couldn't follow all the goings-on. The film was in German (all films are dubbed in Germany) so that I didn't have problems understanding what was said. I wasn't distracted by a badly behaving audience. (Chance would have it that I was the only spectator! I could only go to the pictures on a weekday afternoon and didn't find anyone to accompany me. Why the ticket man didn't send me home when nobody else showed up, will remain a mystery.) I have no idea why two young men were in Ireland, why there was a rebellion later on in London and why the Queen ordered them to be beheaded. I'm not asking anyone to explain that to me now, the script should have been written in a way that an intelligent spectator without a degree in English history could follow the story without problems.
The costumes are worth a mention, too. Ifans says that Emmerich got his inspiration from Karl Lagerfeld and that he added some David Bowie. A German extra who plays the Lord of Court told a reporter that 300 costumes (Costume Design by Lisy Christl) were made by hand and that even the underwear was historically correct. Why? Search me.
In case there was music, I don't remember it. But then I never do.
Maybe you can still get the film in cinemas. If it doesn't run any more, you'll have to wait until
March 5 th when the DVD will be released.
Recommended to Shakespeare buffs and/or friends of brilliant acting.