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.
Featuring 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.