- 2 hr 10 min
In Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich presents his interpretation of the traditional Shakespeare authorship question - that is, whether the plays attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by someone else. The film stars Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who is presented as the true author of the plays. Vanessa Redgrave plays an older Queen Elizabeth I, who is depicted as the Earl's secret lover and the inspiration for many of his famous characters.
The film is primarily set in Elizabethan England, focusing on the political turmoil of the time and the power struggles between the royal court and the aristocracy. Edward de Vere is a prominent member of the court, but finds himself at odds with the powerful and ambitious Robert Cecil (David Thewlis), who aims to manipulate the succession of the throne after Queen Elizabeth's death. As he struggles to protect those he loves and maintain his artistic integrity in the face of political pressure, de Vere turns to writing as a means of expressing himself and making his voice heard.
Emmerich uses a nonlinear narrative structure to convey de Vere's story, jumping back and forth in time and between different characters. The film also features segments set in modern times, in which an elderly Oxford professor (Derek Jacobi) delivers a lecture on the authorship question to a group of students. These scenes serve as a framing device for the larger story, and allow Emmerich to draw parallels between the political climate of Elizabethan England and contemporary society.
While the idea of Shakespeare not actually writing his plays has been explored in various forms over the years, Anonymous takes a particularly radical approach. Emmerich uses the film to posit a grand conspiracy involving the likes of Ben Jonson, the Earl of Southampton, and even Christopher Marlowe - all of whom are presented as co-conspirators in the grand ruse. The film also suggests that the true authorship of the plays was covered up for centuries, with Shakespeare being credited only due to his convenient status as an uneducated provincial.
Despite its somewhat controversial subject matter, Anonymous is a visually stunning film. Emmerich and his team spare no expense in recreating the Elizabethan setting, and the film boasts lush costumes, expansive sets, and impressive battle scenes. The writing is also sharp, particularly in scenes between de Vere and Queen Elizabeth I, in which the two share a surprisingly intimate connection. Ifans delivers a standout performance as de Vere, capturing both the character's vulnerability and his fiery passion.
That said, the film's nonlinear structure can be confusing at times, especially to those not already familiar with the intricacies of Shakespeare scholarship. Additionally, the plot occasionally veers into melodrama, with some characters coming across as caricatures rather than fully fleshed-out individuals. Emmerich's decision to use modern music in several scenes, while visually striking, can also be jarring and take viewers out of the immersive Elizabethan world.
Despite these flaws, Anonymous remains a compelling exploration of one of the literary world's greatest mysteries. The film's bold reimagining of Shakespeare and his works is sure to spark debate among scholars and casual fans alike, while Emmerich's visual flair makes for an entertaining cinematic experience. Ultimately, whether or not one subscribes to the conspiracy theory at the heart of the film, Anonymous offers an intriguing glimpse into the politics and culture of Elizabethan England.
Anonymous is a 2011 drama with a runtime of 2 hours and 10 minutes. It has received mostly poor reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.8 and a MetaScore of 50.