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'Anonymous' Film Review

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating
User Rating 4 Star Rating (2 Reviews)


Rhys Ifans in 'Anonymous'

Rhys Ifans in 'Anonymous'

Photo © Columbia Pictures
The Release of Roland Emmerich's Anonymous caused a row in the media and academic circles because it supports the view that William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays and sonnets.

The Story

Anonymous draws upon the Shakespeare authorship debate and presents Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real author of the plays we now attribute to Shakespeare.

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.

The Production

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

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 3 out of 5
Anonymous, Member MarkGarcia1

I found Anonymous to be a very entertaining film with excellent acting and a superb recreation of Elizabethan London using CGI-establishing shots. The downside was the historical inaccuracies in the script in relation to the timeline and the Earl of Oxford's (a real Elizabethan courtier, dramatist and poet) life. At the time the story takes place he was living at Kings Place in Hackney, not in a mansion near the River Thames as the film depicts. Oxford, played in middle age by Rhys Ifans also refers to 'Brooke House' which was the name of Kings Place only after his death when his widow sold it to Fulke Greville, later Lord Brooke. These inaccuracies may not have been so obvious to viewers who know little about Elizabethan England or the Earl of Oxford (not exactly a household name like Shakespeare). Anonymous should be treated as historically fiction in the same way as the numerous adaptations of Alexandre Dumas' novels. If you planning to see Anonymous please also check out the first part of my documentary on the Earl of Oxford 'The Real Edward de Vere' which is on youtube.

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