Let’s jump back in time to the period of William Shakespeare. Scratch that. Let’s jump back to the period of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, the mastermind behind such grandiose films as The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, delves into the truth behind the famous works of William Shakespeare.
Anonymous diverges from Emmerich’s previous films, which tend to lean towards the extravagant. Instead, this film offers a more quiet and devious tone. Pulling the viewer in from the beginning via a literal introduction from Derek Jacobi, the film attempts to “set the stage” for the audience by explaining why an illiterate actor (William Shakespeare) could not have written such thrilling and witty words as seen in Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. From the beginning, the film questions the authority of each character, acknowledging that no one’s identity is ever truly known and that lies and truths blend seamlessly together. The viewer carries these questions through the very end.
William Shakespeare, played by Rafe Spall, is shockingly unimportant important within the film. Despite the film’s tagline, “Was Shakespeare a Fraud?” he is a minor character, whose name has more presence than his identity. Oxford, a tormented nobleman torn between his passion for writing and his duties, is portrayed convincingly by Rhys Ifans. Ifans plays the true visionary behind the supposed words of Shakespeare, who is, in fact, a fraud.
Unable to claim his own work, Oxford enlists the aid of fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, played by Sebastian Armesto, to showcase his work on the stage. Jealousy arises after the masses react favorably towards Oxford’s works, and underneath this jealousy lies more questions that can (supposedly) only be answered by a series of flashbacks.
From flashback to flashback, viewers see how theater has intertwined the lives of characters on screen. From the royal Queen Elizabeth I to the lowly actor William Shakespeare, each plays a part that they know nothing about. Oxford’s writings affect his life and the lives of those around him. Viewers see shots of “Shakespeare’s famous plays,” such as Hamlet and Henry V, alongside scenes of tragedy and secrets involving Oxford. A connection is made between his works and his experiences, and the viewer begins shift the perceptions formed in his 8th grade Literature class.
With beautiful aerial shots of London, and specifically the Globe Theater, Anonymous takes viewers on a journey from the present to the past, seeking to answer questions no one at the theater had asked. However, the answers it gives highlights an interesting idea of anonymity. The lies and deception seen throughout the film point out that everyone is anonymous to a degree because no one is willing to show their true selves. Compelling actors and actresses really push this film beyond expectations, and words both said and written hold great meaning. Illegitimate children, fake playwrights, and illicit affairs abound in Emmerich’s film, and that’s not always a bad thing.
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Sebastian Armesto, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, Edward Hogg
Directed By: Roland Emmerich
PG-13, 130 minutes
See if you liked: The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)