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Movie Review: Anonymous (2011)

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The central premise of Anonymous, that William Shakespeare never wrote any of his famous works, is completely ludicrous and what unfolds is similarly, and perhaps fittingly, ridiculous. But if you allow yourself to get wrapped up in the over-the-top dramatics it offers a good dosage of fun.

Anonymous movie reviewFeaturing a diverse cast of everyone from Rhys Ifans (clearly the standout) and Vanessa Redgrave to Joely Richardson (Redgrave’s daughter) and David Thewlis (to name but a few), the film can be enjoyed on the level of seeing a bunch of well known and newcomer actors alike spouting overly dramatic dialogue while wearing 16th century garb. Not that it really tries to but the film never feels genuine, with preposterous twists and turns that almost spit on historical fact, pulling you out of the action any time when the film approaches some semblance of realism.

Anyone who goes into this film expecting an accurate history lesson is going to be sorely disappointed. It flies in the face of known fact so blatantly it often goes beyond ridiculous into laughable (there were more than a few sniggers in the screening I was in). And it does this throughout an overly convoluted narrative, one that jumps back and forth in time, an issue when it’s hard enough already to tell actors apart without having to contend with trying to work out who is supposed to be who at different ages.

What may be the most ridiculous thing about Anonymous is that it comes to us courtesy of director Roland Emmerich. How does the man behind such noisy blockbuster fair as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, 10,000 BC, and most recently 2012 make a historical film about Shakespeare? There’s something very strange, and in a way very refreshing, that a director who is known for one brand of filmmaking would step so outside his comfort zone. Having said that it doesn’t exactly take a cinephile to look at Anonymous and see some of Emmerich’s bombastic sensibilities at play.

Anonymous has and will continue to annoy Shakespeare historians and fans alike, if not for purporting that Shakespeare never wrote any of his own works then for bastardising the literary legend with such an unapologetically loud and in-your-face piece of fluff entertainment. And that’s all it is at the end of the day: an over-the-top, bombastic throwaway film. Not exactly great cinema, but as historically inaccurate films go you could certainly do a lot worse.


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  • Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed.D.

    Whenever I have seen a historical drama I have investigated further to see how much of it is history and how much fiction. I loved Anonymous, and I’ve studied Shakespeare for over 25 years. I think the movie Anonymous comes much closer to the truth than the legends and speculations that have come down to us about the Stratford businessman named “Shaksper” who was mistaken for the author Shakespeare.

  • art

    My favorite conspiracy theory about Shakespeare is my own – shared by no one. And that is that Shakespeare legacy enjoys the same fame as Walt Disney. There are people who still believe that Disney wrote, directed all his films, including drawing every frame of every cartoon. I think it is possible that Willy was a producer to collected or paid for plays, tweaked them here and there and then produced them with only his name as “presenter.” Time and public ignorance then attributed every word as him. – Possible?? Remotely — but as long as we’re “conspiratorializin'”!

  • Knox

    The visual effects of period London are simply gorgeous. We can call it anti-Shakespeare in love. The film is highly entertaining, the plot is intriguing and presents an interesting argument.

  • Tate Lipton

    No matter what you think about the authorship, the film was very well done. I think people should go see the film to be entertained and respect what passion the director has for it.

  • Brian

    I thought this movie was very entertaining! The story was off at times, but the scenes of the Globe Theater were unbelievable, Rhys Ifans was great as Edward De Vere. You just sit back and enjoy the films for what it is

  • Deano

    Actually Eliza there is a fair amount of evidence that events from after 1604 were used in the plays. The Tempest is believed to have been extensively drawn from events pertaining to shipwreck in Bermuda in 1609-10.

    There is no EVIDENCE that the Earl of Oxford wrote any of the plays, just supposition and conjecture based on what boils down to snobbish disapproval that a glover son could have written the plays.

    On the other hand there are reams of evidence and study that support the conclusion that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare including statements of his peers, assignment for the writings, historical records from the theatre, accounts from theatre patrons etc.

    Feel free to enjoy the movie but don’t make the mistake that it has anything to do with historical fact.

  • Nate Benson

    It wouldn’t be such a great film without the debate. The controversy has been there for years, and it is completely logical that Shakespeare didn’t write all of “his” plays, the plays themselves are brilliant. Five stars!

  • Mathew Corsse

    Look up some of J.T. Looney’s research, maybe you’ll understand the political debate. Shakespeare didn’t write anything, it was the Earl of Oxford, which is the plot of the film. Looney argued, by his own account, originated out of a belief that The Merchant of Venice must have been written by a man who knew Italy and Italian life at first hand, which meant that it could not have been an actor from Stratford.

  • Stephanie

    Why is everyone getting so caught up in the political debate? Sit back and enjoy the film. I loved the movie.

  • Charlie

    I rather enjoyed this film, it only explores the ‘what if’ Shakespeare never a word. It was a entertaining and compelling watch and I would go see it again.

  • eliza

    There is no precise method of dating the Shakespeare plays. Scholars have dated them mostly based on the lifespan of the Stratford man. So they have engaged in circular reasoning. The fact is that no Shakespeare play uses any source material dated after 1604 (the year of DeVere’s death). Hamlet and other plays could well have been written a decade earlier than is supposed.

  • Deano

    Not to trample the nonsense of the film (which I haven’t seen yet) or the respective opinions of the previous commenters but the overwhelming majority of historical and literary scholars do not support the authorship controversy and do not recognize the validity of the arguments against anyone other than Shakespeare having written Shakespeare.

    The reasons for this are too numerous to elucidate here however among the most basic is that there is significant factually demonstratable evidence that his peers in the theatre world, fellow, playwrites, actors, audience members etc. all freely acknowledge and recognized Shakespeare’s works both during his time as a player and a playwrite, and after his death.

    Given the fact that the theatre community in London during the era was small and intensely competitive, and that various actors and playwrites often sniped commentary and jokes at one another within the content of the plays themselves, including a number of japes aimed directly at Shakespeare himself (“an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey”) amply demosntrating his own contemporaries attributed the authorship to him.

    Add in the fact that Oxford died in 1604 while Shakespeare kept churning out plays for another ten years (indeed, some of them among his most stirring and evocative works) and the authorship contraversy is revealed as the steaming pile of barnyard effluence that it is.

  • Jan

    Sorry to have to tell you this, but Shakespeare was very unlikely to have written all of his plays. If you actually studied the historical facts of William Shakespeare’s life then you will see that the controversy exists and that most modern Shakespeare documentaries always mention the fact that there were several other people who would have been more likely to have written the plays at the time. But if we think about it, that doesn’t make the plays any less brilliant. As a matter of fact, I believe that makes it all the more interesting.

  • Bill

    Having studied the subject matter for 20+ years the “Facts” you refer to simply don’t exist. Many of the contemporary books out there simply re-badge a fiction that’s been handed down for years who’s “facts” when challenged do not stand. Conjecture is not fact.