The great Bard once said in his famous tragedy “Romeo and Juliet, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would sound as sweet.” A beautiful line of verse, this Shakespearean quote is very much applicable to the name, as well as the identity of the author himself: What if William Shakespeare, one of the most famous playwrights in history, never wrote a single word of his plays?
That’s just what the film “Anonymous” intends to argue. Directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie exposes Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespearean plays. So, then, who is Shakespeare? According to the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, the man the world has lovingly termed “the Bard” was a mediocre actor used by de Vere for his anonymity: He received all the fame, as well as profits from de Vere’s plays, while the latter wanted only to see his true passion come to life on stage, since plays were banned in the royal courts of Protestant Tudor England.
This movie not only manages to address the issue of authorship, but also delves deeper into the historical context of the time, revealing several scandalous situations within the royal courts, such as Queen Elizabeth’s bastard children and the fight for succession within the Tudor court.
As a history fanatic and a Shakespeare lover, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The interwoven complexity, smart script and enjoyable acting add a certain quality of depth to this film that few movies have attempted to accomplish in recent cinema.
One of the best aspects of the film is the complexity of adding the several Shakespearean play elements into Edward de Vere’s life. Many of the situations, including stabbing a person hiding behind a tapestry and having romantic feelings for his own mother reveals many Hamlet-like aspects to the story, thus raising the question: was de Vere Hamlet? Was the famous tragedy based on his own life? Such questions can only be raised in hopes of furthering intellectual discussion but will never have a definite answer.
Although Rhys Ifans, who plays de Vere, delivers a strong performance, the standout is Vanessa Redgrave, who portrays Queen Elizabeth I. Although famous royalty figures are usually played with a severe, polite and somewhat distant fashion, Redgrave adds a humanistic element that truly changes the way in which modern audiences see the famous Queen performed.
Playing Elizabeth as an older — and a rather mentally ill — ruler, Redgrave reveals a lonely, loving and frustrated monarch who is held back by her position from attaining what she truly desired: the man she loves. Redgrave’s performance is fantastic as well as moving; enough to hopefully give her an Oscar nod.
The element of time is also ingeniously placed in this movie. Ignoring the standard linear fashion of storytelling, Emmerich creates a world full of chaos: scenes switch rapidly from past to present, therefore sending the audience into a confused state for the first thirty minutes of the movie. We view past troubles and present issues as we move from one time frame to another. The confusion is at first unsettling, but it resolves quickly enough to keep the audience intrigued.
Unfortunately, not everyone will love this movie: its accessibility is one of the few things that keeps it from receiving five stars. If a Shakespeare-loving Tudor intellect dragged along an historically uninformed and rather short-attention spanned person to this movie, they would both respond in different ways: The former would most likely appreciating the complexity, depth and research of the movie, while the latter would want their money back. I enjoyed the movie because it was the very genre I love to watch, but it will sadly not received the same way by everyone.
All in all, this movie is a refreshing addition to the 2011 movie lineup. It possesses history, drama, romance and literature, as well as aesthetically pleasing costumes and sets. It also challenges the very notion of authorship as well as historical truth: If we can’t trust the validity of one of the most well-known playwrights in history, than what can we trust?
Although many academics and scholars disagree with the Oxfordian theory, I must say that after seeing this movie, I am a believer: I fully agree that Edward de Vere was the true author and that William Shakespeare was merely a name.
So, in conclusion, here is my recommendation: If you love the Bard’s words, as well as the intrigue of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, then it is well worth your time and money. If you get bored at the mention of iambic pentameter, spend your movie money on something else.
Rating: 4 out of 5