William Shakespeare, nothing more than a fame-greedy actor in this film, becomes the Earl’s stooge. He willingly puts his names to the plays because it would have been disgraceful for a man of De Vere’s position to be associated with the London stage.
Anonymous is set against the political turmoil that occurred at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and takes a fanciful view of Elizabethan England. It places the author of the plays at the heart of the Royal Court – and therefore mixed up in all the “cloak-and-dagger” political infighting of the time.
Behind Queen Elizabeth’s public reputation as “The Virgin Queen”, she is revealed to have had an illicit affair with De Vere, ultimately exposing the power of the English throne to the London stage.
Did De Vere Really Write Shakespeare?
The idea that De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, actually wrote the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare is nothing new, but the idea has never really been embraced in popular culture. The Shakespeare authorship debate has been a footnote; a piece of speculative trivia; pup quiz fodder.
But has the film Anonymous strengthened the conspiracy theories? Well … no! Even the UK tabloid press (who we all know love a good conspiracy) recognized that the film presents a reductionist view of history and doesn’t tackle the basic facts that disqualify De Vere as the real author. Namely that:
- De Vere died in 1604. Shakespeare’s last play was written in around 1612.
- No documentary evidence connects De Vere to the plays.
- The quality of De Vere’s poetry published under his name is inferior when compared to Shakespeare’s.
This is the central stumbling block for Anonymous. When one reads about the Shakespeare authorship debate, it is possible to put forward a convincing argument. On screen, it becomes really apparent how preposterous the De Vere case is!
Overall, Anonymous is a difficult film. Its subject matter was always going to provoke controversy and, in many respects, the inevitable talk of conspiracy has over shadowed the fact that this is an enjoyable film.
A quick glance at the newspaper reviews prove that the critics have found it hard to move beyond the authorship question.
For example, The Guardian wrote that:
Roland Emmerich's meticulously crafted and often well-acted exposé of the ‘real’ William Shakespeare is shocking only in that it is rather good.
The Daily Mail was less kind with:
You don’t need A-levels in history and English to recognise that Anonymous is preposterous.
In truth, the story is dense and it is often difficult to follow the endless, heavy plotlines. But behind this there are some really stand-out performances; most notably, that of Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: John Orloff
Starring: Rhys Ifans (Earl of Oxford), Vanessa Redgrave (Queen Elizabeth I), Rafe Spall (William Shakespeare), Xavier Samuel (Earl of Southampton), Sebastian Armesto (Ben Johnson), and Sebastian Reid (Earl of Essex).
Producers: Roland Emmerich, Larry Franco and Robert Leger
Executive Producers: Volker Engel, Marc Weigert, and John Orloff
Release: October 2011
Length: 130 minutes
Studio: Columbia Pictures