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Possibly the Greatest Literary Deception of All Time Gets Suberp Cinematic Treatment--Superior to "Shakespear In Love"
classicalsteve19 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
About 300 years after the publication of the first collected works of Shakespeare, the so-called First Folio (1623), a schoolmaster named J. Thomas Looney (pronounced "loanee") facilitated his students in readings of the Shakespeare plays, particularly "the Merchant of Venice". Over the years while watching the plays, hearing their rhetoric, and absorbing this remarkable voice whose Elizabethan presence is still revered and studied today, Looney became convinced the man from Stratford who is attributed to having written the plays (the Orthodox View), was not the true author. He came to believe the name "William Shakespeare" which appeared on two published poems, the later quartos and the First Folio was in reality a pseudonym for someone else, possibly a nobleman. Previously, those who questioned the Orthodox View, sometimes called Anti-Stratfordians, had proposed others of the Elizebethan Age, such as Sir Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe, but Looney was convinced the true author was someone never before put forth since Shakespearian scholarship began in the 18th century. Shakespeare has and still does remain shrouded in mystery.

Because Shakespeare biographical detail has been sketchy at best, Looney developed a profile similar to those used by detectives to paint a picture of his candidate, based on elements in the plays. He determined the writer was a nobleman, a Falconer, possibly sympathetic to the Lancastrian side of the Wars of the Roses, and someone who loved Italy and Italian culture. And, most important of all, that he was a poet who possibly had written poems and/or plays under his own name before going under the name of William Shakespeare. After finding a number of primary sources at the British Library, he came up with his findings. Looney proposed a somewhat forgotten nobleman named Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as being the true identity of the poet/playwright William Shakespeare in a book called simply "Shakespeare Identified".

"Anonymous" is a film based on Looney's original notion that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, penned the plays which would become the greatest literary canon of the English language. The events surrounding the plays, their performances, Oxford's conscious willingness to stay behind the scenes, and the attribution of the plays to the man from Stratford, a businessman who had little or no experience in theatre, are all dramatized in a period film which takes you back to the world of the Elizabethan Stage. One of the best aspects of "Anonymous" is how it relates the plays to political rhetoric of the period. In recent years, Shakespearian scholars have proposed that many figures of the Elizabethan Court were satirized in the plays, such as William Cecil and his son Robert Cecil. The links between the plays and contemporary politics are brought to the fore much more directly than in "Shakespeare in Love".

Character actor Rhys Ifans offers an Oscar-caliber performance as the man who some believe was the real Shakespeare. Ifans finds that delicate balance between the remarkable artist and the troubled nobleman who could not reconcile the two worlds of his life. If Shakespeare was in fact a nobleman who went under a pseudonym, many of the events portrayed in "Anonymous" are plausible. Unlike today, playwrights and poets lived on the periphery of society, and a nobleman of the rank of Oxford writing plays containing charged political rhetoric would have been scandalous, hence the Shakespeare-Oxford theory.

The hero of the movie is actually his colleague Ben Johnson, the Elizabethan playwright who has always dwelt under the shadow of Shakespeare, especially in modern times. Johnson would have been the greatest playwright of his age if Shakespeare had not been writing. In this story, he becomes the guardian of the Shakespeare plays, and supposedly the man who saves the canon for posterity. Johnson in fact wrote the preface to the First Folio of 1623. If there had been a cover-up of Shakespeare's true identity, Johnson would have known.

While the film bases many of its embellishments on facts known about Edward de Vere, the film does take a few rather implausible historical licenses, not unlike Amadeus which appeared about 25 years ago. Edward de Vere may have flirted with Queen Elizabeth when he was younger, but whether they bore a child does seem quite fantastic. Later in the film, an extraordinary truth about Oxford's own heritage is revealed. However, films have to tell a story, and some licenses are made in order the story remain interesting and compelling. Shakespeare in many of his plays bent history to fulfill his dramatic goals and theatrical visions.

Many Shakespeare enthusiasts not only dismiss the Oxfordian argument but do not approve of the subject altogether. Some Stratfordians' view is that there is no "authorship question" and that any attempt to discredit the man from Stratford does a disservice to Shakespare. I think "Anonymous" is not so much about changing minds but about bringing the question out into the open. Regardless on which side of the fence you may be, there are a lot of questions concerning the life of Shakespeare. Answers to mundane questions, such as primary sources concerning his composing, are strangely absent. No one seems to have mentioned Stratford being any kind of a poet, playwright or actor in Stratford. However, as shown in the film, primary source evidence survives which speaks of Edward de Vere as an adolescent putting on a short play for the young Queen Elizabeth.

So the film brings us back to the fundamental question: did Oxford write the Shakespeare Canon or was it the man from Stratford? Primary source evidence is sparse, and documents which could have shed light on this problem may have perished in the Great Fire of London in 1666. In short, we may never know. But Oxford's star is on the rise, and in years to come, this may be the first film to acknowledge there is indeed a question. Whether it has been answered is up to each viewer.
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Anonymous -- Hacking history
UncleTantra22 January 2012
These days, the term "Anonymous" conjures up visions of unknown activists trying to influence history from the wings. They write things, and that writing changes society. In his film of the same name, director Roland Emmerich seems to be suggesting that this idea is not exactly new, and that the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare were essentially motivated by the same desire. He takes the age-old mystery of "Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays?" and turns it into a political thriller.

If it's difficult for you to imagine a historical costume drama done by the director of "Universal Soldier," "Stargate," "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012," you are not alone. :-) I suspected that the screenplay (by John Orloff) came first, and that Emmerich discovered it and became enamored of it, and a quick trip to the IMDb verifies that this intuition was correct. It also informs me that Emmerich, taking advantage of the money he made on the previous films, paid for this whole movie out of his own pocket, so that he could have full control of the film, without interference from any studio. It shows.

It's not a bad movie at all. And this is something I never thought I'd find myself saying about a Roland Emmerich movie. The cast is simply to die for: Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth the elder; her daughter Joely Richardson as Elizabeth the younger; Rafe Spall as Shakespeare (a talentless clod of an actor); Sebastian Arnesto as Ben Johnson (a talented playwright, but not even in the same galaxy of greatness as the author of Shakespeare's plays); David Thewlis as William Cecil; Edward Hogg as Robert Cecil; Derek Jacobi doing the prologue; Jaime Campbell Bower (from "Camelot") as the younger Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; and Rhys Ifans as the older Edward de Vere, and the real author of Shakespeare's work.

As presented, the plot is not at all a scholarly argument for the Earl of Oxford's authorship of these plays. It is instead a clever reimagining of historical events (some treated as loosely as Shakespeare himself treated actual history) to turn the answer to the mystery that scholars argue about into a taut political thriller. In Orloff's/Emmerich's vision, Edward de Vere wrote the plays and published them under someone else's name for no less a reason that to foment revolution, change the course of history, and determine the next king of England.

And damnit, that reimagining kinda worked for me. The sets and costumes are pitch perfect, the performances are good, and the potential is there for a good time to be had by all. Like anything related to Shakespeare, the more you know about him and his work, the better this film will be for you. There are so many asides and in-jokes that I cannot begin to go into them. Orloff really did his research. Except for the part about Edward de Vere having died before at least 10 of Shakespeare's plays were written, that is. But that's just a nitpick, and should not stand in the way of writing a good drama. Those kinds of historical nitpicks did not deter Shakespeare, and they don't deter Orloff and Emmerich. All of them understand that "The play's the thing," and that history doesn't mean diddleysquat compared to that.
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One of the best films of the year
howard.schumann12 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"I, once gone, to all the world must die." – William Shakespeare, Sonnet #81

Actor George Dillon has said, "The purpose of drama is to challenge people and to make people see things slightly differently." The challenge is laid down in stunning fashion by German director Roland Emmerich in his latest work, Anonymous, one of the best films of the year. Focusing on two of the most important events of the Elizabethan age: the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and the succession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I, the film supports the premise that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a prominent aristocrat and court insider, was the real author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, plays and poems of romance, tragic political intrigue, and comedy that contain such a compelling beauty and searing intensity that, after 400 years, still reach directly into our hearts and remain there forever.

Described as a "political thriller", Anonymous creates an atmosphere of foreboding and intrigue that, like many films of the genre, begins with a jumble of names, images, and flashbacks that challenge us to sort it all out. We are not certain of anything, but Emmerich invites us, in the words of Diane Ackerman "to groom our curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sunstruck hills." Steering us through the maze of Tudor history, the film makes credible the startling events of the time, providing an authentic recreation of London in the 16th century with its crowded theaters and raucous audience, cluttered streets, and court royalty decked out in fine jewels.

Though some may point out historical inaccuracies in the film, Emmerich, citing Shakespeare in Love as an example, says that the film contains an "emotional truth" rather than a literal one because "the drama is the primary concern." He need not have had concern on that aspect. Through Emmerich's direction, the writing of John Orloff, the cinematography of Anna Foerster, and the superlative performance of an all British cast including Oscar-worthy performances by Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as Oxford, Anonymous succeeds both as an authentic drama and a plausible explanation for many of the problems surrounding the authorship question. While the film may lack a certain depth of characterization, it more than makes up for it with style, spectacle, and an involving story.

To some, the film may be skating on narrative thin ice, Emmerich, however, told an interviewer that "if we provoke, let's provoke all the way," and provoke he does. According to Anonymous, de Vere, in addition to being Shakespeare, was also the illegitimate son of the Queen and, in 1573, the father of a son with Elizabeth, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel). Emmerich handles the subject of incest with great taste, with neither the "Virgin Queen" nor Oxford knowing the truth until close to the end of their lives. After a brief prologue by actor Sir Derek Jacobi, the film begins with the arrest of playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armento) by faceless men in knight's armor in the middle of a theatrical performance.

The author of the play is a well-known writer who, though he is soon released, is taken to the Tower and accused of sedition and slandering the State by the mere act of authoring a play, the mark of a totalitarian society reflecting a growing disdain for the arts. The film then flashes back five years, then forty years, as we become acquainted with the young Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower), taught by highly educated tutors with access to a vast library in the home of William Cecil (David Thewlis), where he was brought up as a ward of the court after his father's death. We also witness his marriage to a teenage Anne Cecil (Amy Kwolek), daughter of William, a marriage that never produced any lasting satisfaction for either party.

As we return to present time, Oxford is forced to hide his identity because of the biting satire of his plays that lampoon some of the more prominent members of the court, and also as a result of a political arrangement that becomes clearer later in the film. His initial choice to front for him is the same Ben Jonson but Jonson refuses, passing the mantle to Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an actor for the Lord Chamberlain's Men who seizes the opportunity. In a superbly comic performance, Spall portrays Will as an illiterate money-grubber who can barely speak coherently but is willing to sell his name to Oxford at a premium cost. The heart of the plot, however, focuses on the attempt to seize power from Cecil's son Robert, an episode that is known to history as The Essex Rebellion of 1601.

This insurrection, led by Robert Devereaux, the Second Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) results in his beheading and the imprisonment of Southampton who is sent to the Tower awaiting certain death. Oxford's attempt to persuade Elizabeth to save their son results in a political deal that makes us privy to why Oxford was never able to reveal his authorship of the Shakespeare canon. While some critics may proclaim the movie a moment of singularity that indicates the end of the world as we know it (even before 2012), Anonymous may have the opposite effect, opening the subject to a wider audience who may be able to view Shakespeare and his times from a totally new perspective.

In Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," Jubal said we're prisoners of our early indoctrinations, "for it is hard, very nearly impossible, to shake off one's earliest training." If my intuition is correct, the prison gates will soon be swinging wide open, and the shaking will begin in earnest. As Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
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A Play By Any Other Name ...
ferguson-630 October 2011
Greetings again from the darkness. While it is clear that writer John Orloff and director Roland Emmerich believe that Edward De Vere, The Earl of Oxford, and not Will Shakespeare, wrote the infamous and iconic plays we have celebrated for 400 years, my advice is to watch this as a Hollywood movie and not a docu-drama. Hollywood is at its best when exaggerating, twisting and dramatizing historic events and figures.

You may be an expert on Shakespeare and even Elizabethan history, but whether you are or whether you are not, my guess is that you will find this to be interesting and thought-provoking. You may agree with the idea that Shakespeare was not the prolific and talented author, but this movie provides one possible alternative ... with no scientific proof or actual documentation. We see Rhys Ifans and Jamie Campbell Bower portray Edward De Vere as the older and younger version respectively. Both capture his passion for writing and frustration at being unable to live the life for which he was born.

Vanessa Redgrave and her real life daughter Joely Richardson portray Queen Elizabeth at the older and younger stages, and we certainly get a distinctive impression of how "the Virgin Queen" may have been mis-labeled as much as any figure in history. Many lovers and illegitimate children are mentioned and the web of secrecy would have been exhausting, given the other responsibilities of her position.

Rafe Spall portrays Will Shakespeare as what one might call The Village Idiot. The buffoonery we see from this man is an extreme that weakens the case for De Vere, rather than strengthen it. Though talented writer Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) was De Vere's first choice, the lack of morals by the illiterate actor Shakespeare allows him to seize a capitalistic opportunity and soak up the audience love.

The best part of the film is the realistic look and feel of the streets, the Globe Theater and costumes. Rhys Ifans is exceptional in the role of De Vere, and the story itself plays out much like one of Shakespeare's plays. The downside is, I believe most will find the multitude of characters and time-lines and sub-plots to be quite confusing at times. Don't take a bathroom break or you'll miss new babies being born and upheavals being planned.
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Inventive, Compelling, Emmerich's Masterpiece
Legendary_Badass26 October 2011
The Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is a talented playwright whose position forces him to publicly abandon his endeavors. He seeks to sign over his plays and sonnets to Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), but that's easier said than done. When William Shakespeare takes credit (Rafe Spall), that's the least of concerns as the words of Edward affect the political climate.

Rhys Ifans is an unrecognizable powerhouse, and though the rest of the cast fairs well, he shines. As does director Roland Emmerich, who uses every trick at his disposal to make a highly sophisticated drama littered with elaborate costumes and set decoration to be admired.

The theatre experience is very well represented in Anonymous, with the narrator barely making the curtain. Believe it or not but this does actually happen and there are actors who specialize in. The workings of the theatre coincide with the events described and eventually merge. In the time of Edward, the Globe is shown with spectacular accuracy and the familiar faces of the troupe appear across plays.

The future of England is put at stake as the insight into Edward's inspiration is penned on a relationship with Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave and in younger form Joely Richardson). These secrets showcase the power of words to win over love and country.

Is it cheating to inject stolen verse into a screenplay? To some extent yes. We're talking about a movie that lifts words, then says they came from a thief. A bit of a paradox if anything. Similarly, it would be silly for J.J. Abrams to direct a movie that's filled with scenes from every Steven Spielberg film, yet that happened with Super 8.

If Anonymous has a fault, it would be in jerking around the audience. The movie starts with an inventive use of a framing device, and quite appropriately in a theatre. We go back and Ben Johnson is jailed, only for us to go back 5 years to see him getting jailed. Then we go back another 40 and when we next see Johnson he's being set free. So… in which time is he released? Thankfully Anonymous is long enough to allow an audience to gain bearings.

Anonymous is Emmerich's masterpiece, a radical far from his usual environmental apocalypse works. There could be a stigma surrounding the subject, which will be viewed as blasphemy by many. I'd like to reassure you that most popular cinema is an act of fiction. Shakespeare isn't available to rebut, and most moviegoers are not concerned with historical accuracy so long as the story is compelling and filled with drama, which Anonymous delivers.
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Was Shakespeare a front?
PWNYCNY31 October 2011
Was William Shakespeare a front for an aristocrat who did not want his name revealed as the author? This movie is about political intrigue and how theater gets caught up in a larger struggle for power. The movie offers an interesting and controversial portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I and a glimpse of life in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The printing press was becoming a political weapon and those who published could influence the public, maybe to the point of rebellion. Hence, the need of the government to control what was being performed on stage. The stage served the same function of television does today. It was the medium of mass entertainment, which made the playwright a critical player in the politics of the time. Now, if Shakespeare was a front, then the question is: who wrote all these plays? Maybe it doesn't matter who actually wrote the plays but then again, maybe it does matter because by knowing the author, this may lead to new interpretations of the plays. Maybe these plays were political polemics produced under the guise of historical drama. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: these plays made an impact on society that continues to reverberate to this day.

One other point. This movie is a work of fiction and so if it is loose with certain historical facts, so what? This movie is not a documentary. Rather, it is a fictional historical drama that revolves around a controversial and even shocking plot. Whether Shakespeare is the actual author of the works attributed to him is not the point. That is a matter for debate. What is the point is whether the movie works as a movie. The story is complex, yet the movie manages to engage the audience through strong acting and by presenting a story crammed with political intrigue. Who can say for certain what was going on in England 500 years ago? It is all a matter for speculation, based upon the available historical material, all of which is subject to interpretation. The idea of English writers bickering and fighting over the authorship of plays may seem trite and far fetched, but the conflict makes for good drama, even if it is pure fiction.
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Anonymous = Entertainment
alangsco9 November 2011
First thing to point out. When going to watch this movie I had no intention whatsoever to judge it on its historical accuracy. I simply did not and do not care. If you want a documentary on Elizabethan times then clearly you shouldn't be watching this particular film.

If, on the other hand, you want a perfectly entertaining and interesting way to spend a couple of hours then you should go and see it. I thought the story was engaging and original (if, like myself, you're not a pretentious academic). The acting was, on the whole, very accomplished. In particular, I thought Rhys Ifans gave a brilliant performance as De Vere and was perfect for the role. I did find Rafe Spall pretty annoying as Shakespeare, but perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt as this was probably the aim of the character.

With regards to the historical rewrite then surely if people are interested in what 'Anonymous' suggests they'll try to find out more about the subject in order to make their own mind up. Nothing wrong with that. And those taking Hollywood's version of history at face value are pretty much beyond help anyway.

Certainly one of the most memorable movies i've seen (for the right reasons) this year.
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Words can be more powerful than swords
KineticSeoul28 January 2012
The trailer to this movie interested me but it really beat my expectation. I thought it would be sort of interesting but overall dumb and super far-fetched movie. Now I can see how some people might dislike this movie, especially for those that are fans of Shakespeare. Also the movie doesn't really make you think but instead goes in a black and white direction. Where Shakespeare is a charlatan and a fraud, while being a obnoxious drunkard and a despicable person at that. Also this movie might irritate some viewers who judges movies by how true it is historically. Although history is written by ink and usually by the victors. But what this movie is, is a intriguing movie that grabbed my attention most of the way through although it had some slow moments. And can get a bit convoluted the way it goes from before and after parts, but you catch on after a while. Since there are movies about Shakespeare, it would have been more interesting if it had more of the back story of Earl of Oxford and his life. And also some parts seemed a bit far-fetched. The cast was pretty good and the acting for the most part is believable. Especially Rhys Ifans who played Earl of Oxford, the way he presented himself was charismatic and you could tell the character is intelligent by the way he expressed himself. Vanessa Redgrave was also great as Queen Elizabeth I. What was intriguing was how plays are in a way sort of like movies and this movie was about how plays moved people in immense ways. Overall this movie was a good blend of drama, romance and conspiracy.

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A surprisingly good political thriller that even non-Shakespeare fans like me will enjoy. I really liked this movie. I say B+
cosmo_tiger20 January 2012
"The most performed playwright of all time, the author of 37 plays, 154 sonnets & several narrative poems...and yet not a single manuscript of any kind has ever been found written in Shakespeare's own hand." A movie that explores the theory that Shakespeare didn't write any of the things that he is said to. The theory is that The Earl of Oxford (Ifans) wrote them all as a stab at the new Queen (Redgrave) of England. I have said this before but I am not a Shakespeare fan at all, I just don't get him. There are a few movies of his I like but for the most part I am not a fan. Needless to say before watching this I was not that excited at all. Almost instantly the movie grabbed me and I was hooked. For those like me this is not really about Shakespeare at all, but more of a political thriller about trying to start and control a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I in the 1600's. Weather this is true or not to me doesn't matter but the idea of writing plays as a way to begin a rebellion is a very interesting theory and makes for a very interesting movie. Overall, (from a non-Shakespeare fan) I really enjoyed this movie and recommend this. I give it a B+.
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Roland Emmerich has got himself a masterpiece
DarkVulcan2914 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
What if Shakespeare was a fraud, that is a theory that this movie dares to question. It is brilliantly well told. And this what if thing, will probably make us think that what if any of this true.

Earl of Oxford(Rhys Ifans) has to focus on politics, but his creativity makes him be an artist of a writer. But because he is in politics it is forbidden, so he lets someone else take the credit, and that someone is William Shakespeare. And the unfortunate chain of events that will follow.

Rhys Ifans is Oscar worthy, his performance is beyond perfection as a tortured man. Vanessa Redgrave is good as Queen Elizabeth, so was her daughter Joely Richardson as young Queen Elizabeth in flash back scenes. The setting was also good, all the other supporting cast where good also. Roland Emmerichs direction is perfect, I hope he won't be missed by the Oscars.
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an ambitious tale of drama and intrigue (mild spoilers)
Rick-3414 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Roland Emmerich's Anonymous addresses the question of Shakespeare's identity in this tale of Edward de Vere and his actions in the court of Queen Elizabeth. The film starts a prologue by the eminent Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi, and then leads us into a scene with Ben Johnson running about London, fleeing from the knights of Robert Cecil while carrying the Complete Works. From there we flash back five years to the first time Johnson was arrested for authoring a "seditious" play, while de Vere, Christopher Marlowe and other luminaries of the London dramatic scene watched. From there, a second flashback of another 40 years sends us to watch de Vere's youth and his first encounters with the Cecils and with Queen Elizabeth.

Throughout the film we follow three periods of time: de Vere's youth and his growing love for the Queen; the peak of the Shakespearean arc in London, when de Vere was feeding plays to Shakespeare and involving himself in intrigues of London surrounding the question of Elizabeth's heir; and to a much lesser extent, the actions of Johnson and Cecil in the aftermath of the deaths of Elizabeth and de Vere, and the coronation of King James I. Some have complained that the various swings from one time line to another are confusing, but I found it easy to differentiate between young Edward and young Elizabeth and their much older counterparts.

The main body of the film centers around the contest between de Vere's actions to place the Earl of Essex in the line of succession, and the competing interests of the Cecils (first William, then Robert) to steer the throne to King James of Scotland. Thankfully for the viewer, it is easy to differentiate between the two camps, as Essex and his entourage are all fair-haired, while James and the Cecils are dark-haired.

There will be controversy about this film due to the great liberties it takes with historical facts. John Orloff's screenplay ranges from facts well established in the historical record to some points that are debated by experts with varying points of view and interpretations, to some fictions that are introduced and can only be viewed as flatly false. Who wrote the plays and poems we attribute to Shakespeare? This is at least a topic for debate. Who killed Christopher Marlowe? This film provides an extremely unlikely answer to this question. Was Elizabeth truly a "Virgin Queen"? A modern viewer might think this to be unlikely (especially considering who her father was) but the number and variety of her children suggested by the film seems extremely unlikely. And then there are facts not in dispute at all that are contradicted by the film (such as the fact that Edward de Vere survived his first wife Anne Cecil de Vere and indeed remarried).

It is important, then, to understand that this film is a work of fiction and is not presenting what it believes to be the literal truth regarding the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. With that in mind, it comes out well in comparison to the feather-light Shakespeare in Love. The production values of the film are tremendous. The producers have gone to great efforts to replicate Elizabethan London, with its architecture and much and the wooden planks used in place of modern sidewalks. The acting is tremendous, especially Rhys Ifans as de Vere and Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth.

I recommend this film highly, not as a serious treatment of the authorship question, but as an entertaining piece of historical fiction. It might have been interesting to see a film that was a more serious treatment of the Oxfordian point-of-view, but such a film might well have been fairly boring in comparison.
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Great Production Values, but...
aharmas29 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Questioning Shakespeare's credits could be a divisive topic, and mixing the idea with a terrific set of authors and an inventive script would have resulted in an explosive film to say the least. The final result is a film that is highly watchable because of its recreations of a long gone period, but it is desperately lacking an effective script. We are left with the movie that could have been.

We're taken through a highly irregular narrative that presents an alternate storyline to show what could have been Shakespeare's real role in the production of his masterpieces. Because of political and religious reasons, the man's true identity is hidden and through some quirks in the actual production of one of his early plays, soon we see the origin of the "public figure" that we associate the playwright with. Behind the scenes, we are told we have political intrigue, a modernistic retelling of the queen's secret life, and the tragic end to the people who might have been more responsible for the spirit and truth of the various works.

The film is at its best beautiful to look at, and it is entertaining in a few of the scenes. Still, one is left yearning for more clarification, for a better understanding of what could have the writers been thinking they could get away with. It is in the end, a mystery.
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Wow! You've got to see this. Whether true or not, it's a fascinating film.
Melanie-Johnston19 November 2011
Everyone in our theater was so mesmerized by this many-layered plot that no one even got up to go the bathroom. My head was spinning a bit, trying to keep up with who was related to whom, but I loved every minute of it.

And I know the cast is highly pedigreed because I recognized some of the actors in the plays from a live performance of Shakespeare the Old Globe Theater troupe gave at UCLA a few years ago while the Old Globe was being renovated. Annette Bening was in the audience that night, so it was a pretty cool evening all around.

After the movie I was at a restaurant next to the theater and I heard a woman say, "I just saw that Shakespeare movie and I'm in a daze."

Go see it and you will be, too. I think I need to see it a few more times to pick up all the fascinating details.
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Hysteria His Story or To Thine Own Self Be False
jadepietro1 November 2011
This film is not recommended.

With apologies to Shakespeare, the true talent, thus, my feeble attempt at (mostly) iambic pentameter:

Anonymous, a film of cheese and ham, Questions the legend of Shakespeare, William, Whose work it claims the sole property of, Edward DeVere's, Earl, and a class above, Theory and conjecture, Will's name to malign, A film not noble, literate, or refined, Its tale quite shallow, protesting too much, Spouting nonsense, drivel, dreck, and such.

A production with much to admire, Before all logic begins to expire, Sensationally, a work of fiction, Unconvincing in its own conviction, Visual spectacle, or farce, perhaps, Intelligence and wit well nigh elapse, Although I may seem to kvetch and complain, This film ultimately doth entertain.

The thespians display their skills and crafts, While unintentionally providing laughs, Over-emoting as they misbehave, The likes of Jacobi and Ladies Redgrave, Rhys Ifans well plays lover and writer, Were only Orloff's script a bit tighter, Rafe Spall's the bard as wretched sot, an eyeful, Poor Will should sue for slander and libel.

Disaster, thine mainstay of Emmerich, Part director, part showman, his prime niche, For depth and clarity, he will not delve, Note: Independence Day and 2012, Whilst not the disaster we've come to expect, The film has little to awe or respect, It plays fast with the facts, and offers nil, Except sets, that in some measure, fulfill.

With all its pomp and expensive wrappings, Lavish costumes doth not disguise its trappings, But thy foul temper and malaise spills forth, Yielding a vile film of lesser worth, A ill-conceived venture, shrill, and unkind, Outlandishly ornate and out of its mind, A stylish film, yet so misbegotten, One hopes Anonymous is soon well forgotten.


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Was Shakespeare a Fraud?
moviewizguy28 September 2011
Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, Anonymous speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds such as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Sigmund Freud, namely: who actually created the body of work credited to William Shakespeare? Experts have debated, books have been written, and scholars have devoted their lives to protecting or debunking theories surrounding the authorship of the most renowned works in English literature. Anonymous poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when scandalous political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles lusting for the power of the throne were brought to light in the most unlikely of places: the London stage. -- (C) Sony Pictures

As an average movie-goer, I had no idea that Shakespeare's authorship was ever questioned. I didn't know there were theories that existed that other people might have been the true author of the plays, one of which the film focuses on is Oxford. But as far as what ANONYMOUS achieves, it certainly opened my mind as an individual that there is a possibility that another person might have been the true writer of the plays. I mean, why not? It makes the whole thing pertaining to Shakespeare's plays much more interesting. At the most basic level, ANONYMOUS does one thing right: It's damn interesting and entertaining.

Even as a person who never liked Shakespeare's plays (especially the dreaded ROMEO AND JULIET), the film manages to be involving. I was compelled throughout the film, and what makes it work are the actors. Most of them are on the top of their game, including Rhys Ifans who is unrecognizable as Oxford compared to his role in HARRY POTTER 7 PT.1. Even his stares are intense. Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare seems to have a field day with his role, portraying him as an attention-seeking, moneygrubbing actor. I'd also like to point out that Sebastian Armesto, playing Ben Jonson, seems to have an unexpected greater amount of sreentime than anyone else in the film, and he does well in his role as the aspiring writer who plays as a messenger between Oxford and Shakespeare.

Another interesting thing to point out is that the film really doesn't focus on the whole authorship debate a lot. We see that Oxford is the writer giving the scripts to Ben, but other than that, the film pretty much brushes it off to the side and, instead, focuses more on the relationship between Oxford and Queen Elizabeth I as well as the Essex Rebellion. As you can tell, the cast is pretty huge, and I have to admit the first 20 minutes of the film is pretty confusing. We're introduced to a world with many characters and time periods jumping all over the place, but it gets easier to grasp once you get to know the characters.

Overall, ANONYMOUS is an interesting and entertaining film that will get people talking about who the real author of the plays are. The least anyone would get out of it is two hours of a fun "what if?" scenario. The performances by the cast is what really makes the film, though. If it wasn't for the cast, the film wouldn't have worked. Additionally, haters of director Roland Emmerich might find themselves pleased that ANONYMOUS is a character-driven film that doesn't rely on things being destroyed every five minutes. I'd like to see him make more films like this.
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sergepesic23 September 2013
In order to enjoy this pseudo-historical thriller, one has to suspend natural desire for logic and order. For a start this is not history. The mystery of Shakespeare, the greatest writer in English language, will probably stay mystery. So, this simplistic movie,doesn't give any answers, nor pose any valid questions, it just tries to dazzle with bright colors. And it makes it's questionable claim with the heaviest of feet. The character of Shakespeare is made to be a step up from village idiot, dumb and illiterate. Little more subtlety wouldn't hurt. But this is Hollywood, a land where moneymakers rule over talent. So, simpler the better, says the one that holds the purse strings. It is hard to do art without money, but when money rules,art becomes obsolete.
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I Was Shocked That I Was So Bored
Richard-Nathan29 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
As a firm believer that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him, I thought that "Anonymous" would make my blood boil with its myriad historical inaccuracies and its nonsensical conspiracy theories. Instead, it nearly put me to sleep. None of the characters aroused any interest or sympathy. None of the characters had any life, so how could they interest me? None of the characters had a character arc, meaning that no one significantly changes or grew during the film. (Well, that's not completely true. The young de Vere played by Jamie Campbell Bower seemed to be an immature horn dog, while the older de Vere played by Rhys Ifans seems to have no interest in sex at all, but that wasn't character growth - that was an unlikeable character mysteriously becoming a very different unlikeable character with no explanation for the change.) As Edward de Vere, Rhys Ifans attempted to show his poetic soul by looking constipated. He didn't show a shred of humor, which is decidedly odd for a man who supposedly (if he was the real author, as the Oxfordians would have it) wrote more comedies than tragedies. His character claims that art must be political or else it is merely decorative, but he never expressed any political beliefs in the film. He had a personal grudge against the Cecil family, but there is a difference between the personal and the political. (By the way, I find the statement that art must be political or else it is merely decorative to be the most offensive thing in the entire film.)

According to the film, Edward's consummate goal was to install Essex on the throne rather than James. But why did he care? Was it some sort of prejudice against the Scottish? Was it out of some sort of affection for Elizabeth? He lusted for her as a youth, but we never see him show any affection for her as a woman, rather than as sex object (when they were young). (And if he had felt any deep affection for Elizabeth, one would have to question why he would care for such an empty-headed libertine.) Did de Vere actually think Essex's political policies were superior to James's political policies? If so, why didn't the film ever differentiate between their policies? Does this mean that Oxford would have thought the screenplay of "Anonymous" was merely decorative?

As played by Ifans, de Vere didn't seem to have a passion for anything, or any joy in living. He didn't even enjoy writing – he wrote to keep his "voices" from troubling him. (At the very end of the film, he shows some love for his son, but by that point it was too late for me to care about this cold fish.)

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that I was bored. I have long thought that it would be difficult to make a film with Oxford as the hero of an "Oxfordian" movie, because you would either have to portray him as a prig who was ashamed of writing "Hamlet," or as someone who would like to have taken credit, but was too big a wimp to say anything. This film manages to portray Oxford (at least when he is Ifans) as both a wimp and a prig.

The film did not bother me primarily for the way it treated William Shakespeare. It bothered me primarily because it was so damned boring.

Even if you accept the premises of the film, it doesn't make sense on its own terms. Queen Elizabeth is not presented as a Puritan (quite the opposite) and she clearly enjoys plays. Why, at the very end of the film, does she suddenly insist that de Vere's name never be on the plays? That comes completely out of left field. And Robert Cecil is supposed to be an ultimate political games-player and spy master. Why doesn't he know that the man he installs as King likes plays? Why did de Vere first learn about the power of plays to move people when he was a mature man (played by Ifans) who attended a public performance of a play by Ben Jonson? According to the film, de Vere had already written "Romeo & Juliet" and the "Henry IV" plays and had them performed at court - wouldn't he have already known about the power of plays to move people???

The second most offensive thing in the film (i.e., after the statement that art must be political or it is merely decorative) was changing the line "that can sing both high and low" to "that can kiss both high and low" - turning it into a cheap oral sex joke.
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Visually impressive! Story-wise, not so much.
Boba_Fett113819 February 2012
Can't really say I enjoyed watching this movie. Visually it's a great movie to look at but other than that, this movie has far too little else to offer.

Most people are hating on this movie because it's filled with historical inaccuracies and basically non of it is based on any facts, even though the movie presents itself as if its telling a true and historical story, concerning Shakespeare and his well known stage-plays. This however was not the problem I had with its story. Actually I don't see anything wrong with it. I mean, if it takes an entertaining but yet fictional story to get more people interested in Shakespeare, than so be it and I don't have a problem with this at all. But thing I do have a problem with is that the story of this movie just isn't much good really.

It's a movie about Shakespeare but let me tell you that there is very little Shakespeare about the script itself, though it still is being written as a serious attempt, at a Shakespeareing like tragedy, complete with incest, conspiracies and murder. But it really is a story that just never takes off and fails to ever become a true involving or even just interesting one. To put it boldly; I just couldn't care less about the story or anyone in it!

But no, it still most definitely was not a movie that I hated watching. It still has some qualities to it, which mostly comes from its visuals and atmosphere. I thought that the movie did a fantastic job at recreating its time period that it is supposed to be set in, with some great looking sets and costumes and atmospheric camera-work. In that regard this movie is still a real surprise, since it's coming from director Roland Emmerich, who normally really isn't being subtle with any of his movies and enjoys destroying the world, in really most of his movies.

It really is still a movie with some qualities to it and I'm sure it also got made with all of the right intentions. It just really wasn't a movie I ever could enjoy or was grabbed by.

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Complicated questionable but compelling history
SnoopyStyle4 June 2014
'Anonymous' is a modern play on Broadway where a different version of Shakespeare's real life is presented. After a prologue, it flashbacks to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury with his men chasing after Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) with a collection of manuscripts. He hides them under the Rose and his pursuers burn down the theater. Then it flashes 5 years earlier, Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is a drunken actor. It flashes 40 year earlier still, Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower/Rhys Ifans) is the real author of Shakespeare's works. It is a film about political intrigue in the English court during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson/Vanessa Redgrave).

There are a lot of questionable and complicated history. I almost feel a real need to be more familiar with the British history both royal and literary. There is something wrong with this version of history but I'm not a good enough scholar to pinpoint it. The start of the movie jumps around in time and it's easy to get lost. This is definitely an unique interpretation of history from writer John Orloff. Roland Emmerich's direction really needs to simplify the movie although the complicated story adds to the atmosphere. In some way, all the name dropping is addictive and fascinating. The acting is top notch. Emmerich films it with so much murky realism. It's a very tough call. There is enough great performances and the story is so audacious that I must recommend this.
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Beautiful but Barbarically Brainless
kaaber-213 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
  • like the traditional dumb blonde cliché. However, now we must all come to terms with the fact that that tenacious bunch of maniacal deviants, the Oxfordians (never to be confused with the Oxonians for whom there is still hope) have their very own movie. Not only is it based on alarmingly dubious conjectures; the film actually manages to outbid the traditional improbabilities necessary for the Oxfordian theory to (appear to) work, and confounds the entire Elizabethan era with its towering disrespect of facts altogether. And this, I believe, along with the truly beautiful production values, is the saving grace of this film. Contrary to my expectations after seeing a trailer of sorts in which the director actually seemed desirous of being taken seriously, "Anonymous" tops all fears and anxieties by leaving any pretense of historical correctness far behind. According to "Anonymous," not only did Shakespeare not write his own works, he was also a moron. Allow me to relate the moment when, realizing that the film could in no way be taken seriously, I abandoned my apprehensions and started to enjoy the spectacle: in 1601, our protagonist, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, finds Shakespeare em-bare-assed with a prostitute and orders a performance of "Richard III" (which should rightly have been "Richard II," but never mind that.) On the way out, after having remunerated the whore whom Shakespeare is too cheap to pay, he informs the Bard that he (Shakespeare) has published a new poem. Shakespeare seems surprised (as he should, since "Venus and Adonis" was published in 1593, eight years before), but here, Will's surprise is due to his unfamiliarity with the word 'published,' and he adds, after a beat and a half of inane staring: "Oh, you mean: like in a book?". And the Earl sends him a look of dismayed and painful disbelief that is absolutely priceless. This was when it dawned on me that the film is actually a straight-faced joke from beginning to end.

The erratic leaps of time (let alone the leaps of faith) in "Anonymous" attempt to flimflam us like a confidence trickster's shell game, in order to sell us the mystery of the authorship, but when the film is over, only one true mystery remains, and that, admittedly, is a mystery which must indeed baffle all and sundry: what ever induced Derek Jacobi and Vanessa Redgrave to appear in this movie?!
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Absolutely Terrible
tendobear28 October 2012
Way way way too long and confusing with all the flash-backs and flash-forwards; I was too busy reminding myself who's who to actually catch any of the story. The story is also another of its many problems; it made no sense at all and didn't engage. Any time it tried to be serious and tried to convince us of a somewhat credible theory the pace of the film just slowed right down. This is completely unsuitable material for a second-rate director like Emmerich who's more suited to dumb, high-concept action flicks and crowd-pleasers. I think Emmerich had bitten off more than he can chew with this one. In the hands of a more capable director this could've been more convincing and may actually make some sense.
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Rockwell_Cronenberg20 January 2012
I really wanted to like this. I tried so hard, but it just wasn't happening. Anonymous is one of the nine thousand films from this past year that decided to utilize a split-time narrative, and it's one of the ones that butchered the device the most. Working from John Orloff's script, the first hour jumps back and forth through four (I think?) different timelines so rapidly that none of it makes any sense. At most points I couldn't tell which character was which (I'm pretty sure there were at least five present in more than one timeline and only one of them was played by the same actor through each one) and I had no clue what was going on in terms of narrative.

The basic plot will tell you that this is a fictional telling of the much-debated topic of whether William Shakespeare's work was written by the man himself or if they were written by Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. It seems that any history fanatic will be quick to jump down the throat of the makers of this film and criticize them for historical inaccuracies, but honestly that's an easy complaint and a pretty ridiculous one since the film isn't even presented as a recreation of history. Rather, it's staged as a play within the film (it opens in the present day, which threw me), and the whole thing feels as though it's done as historical fiction. It's a fictional story and pretty easy to accept as such for anyone who doesn't have a stick up their ass, but that doesn't mean the film isn't ripe with other flaws.

Moving past the incomprehensible first hour, even when the film sorts itself out into a more coherent structure there isn't anything interesting going on. After finishing the film I can hardly tell you anything about it other than the basic plot progression. There's an interesting theme in dealing with De Vere where for a few brief moments they explore the kind of remorse one could have over watching someone else receive massive praise for work that is rightfully yours, but the character isn't given nearly enough time to really delve into it deeply at all. Instead we focus more on things like the Essex Rebellion against Elizabeth I, which takes up a majority of the plot and doesn't fit fluidly at all within the Shakespeare storyline, where we get to experience a myriad of actors hamming it up in the most unfortunate of ways.

In fact, the whole cast is pretty miserable here, with the one exception being Rhys Ifans as De Vere. Ifans fits this character like a glove, again proving his versatility and expertise as an actor, but it's a shame that the product around him is such a disaster. Everyone else ranges from dreadfully wooden to even more dreadfully theatrical (which is usually appropriate for Shakespeare but I guess that's the difference between Shakespeare and someone trying too hard to be Shakespeare) and it all ends up being a rather unfortunate experience. It seems like the split-time narrative was just a lazy device used when they realized that their actual story wasn't interesting at all.
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Interesting concept, badly executed
grantss3 September 2020
Interesting concept, badly executed. Moves very slowly, and any intrigue built up by the central premise is lost pretty quickly. Good cinematography and costumes though.

Performances are fairly listless.
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Fictional Stupidity
Foxbarking22 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
When you have to have a movie change other historical facts when you're trying to prove something historical, you have already lost the argument.

This movie makes the claim, considered ludicrous by the majority of Shakespeare readers, that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays. There is no evidence at all for this historically and Oxfordians have done a poor job at putting their argument out.

This movie, however, doesn't just stop at changing facts to support the Oxfordian theory. Christopher Marlowe shows up in 1698 when, in fact, he died in 1693. It claims that Shakespeare murdered Marlowe by slashing his throat, when Marlowe was killed with a stab above the left eye by Ingram Frizer. Marlowe then goes and mocks Thomas Dekker's "Shoemaker's Holiday," a play that hadn't even been written yet.Elizabeth the first's funeral was on land and the year she died, the Thames did not freeze over.

These are just some minor things but there is a whole lot of changes made to history by this film. If you are going to be this sloppy with facts, why would we ever believe your theory has any credibility?
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Anonymous? Abomnible
colinmatts26 January 2012
I saw this movie last night and was hugely disappointed. Being a Shakespeare fan, I was always going to be a bit sceptical about any movie that supported the theory that the great man did not write his own plays. But if there was any fear that this movie would lend weight to the countless conspiracy theories that have littered history for centuries, then those fears were soon dispelled. True, Shakespeare is made to look a complete idiot. But that says more about the director and writer than it does about the Immortal Bard. If Shakespeare is treated badly, then Ben Jonson is positively lampooned. Watching the movie, I occasionally got the feeling that its producers did not know who Ben Jonson really was. Historical accuracy was not high on the list of priorities for the makers of this movie. They engage in dynastic and historical gymnastics in order to support the pathetically weak plot, mainly, that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the 37 plays attributed to Shakespeare. By the time the movie finished, I think the Earl of Oxord had turned out to be his own father and Queen Elizabeth i was his mother. This will only count as a spoiler if you have attempted to follow the entwined family trees of the Cecils, Tudors and de Veres through irritating jumps back and forward in time which totally confuse the audience. Having said all this, the movie does boast an outstanding cast and Elizabethan London is excellently recreated with both costumes and sets. Just a pity that they also decided to manufacture the historical events.
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