Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and David Thewlis
Running time: 131 minutes
Release date: 4 November 2011
Age restriction: 13 VS
Emmerich’s latest tackles the great Shakespeare controversy: Was Shakespeare a fraud? Did he steal some of the most beloved plays ever written from manuscripts belonging to a mysterious nobleman? This is the basis for Anonymous.
Roland Emmerich has a signature style of directing that for all intents and purposes gets his message across in an effective way. Simply put, he likes to blow things up. Give Emmerich a planet and he’ll know how to destroy it using convincingly executed visual effects. While his films aren’t necessarily received well by critics, they often make the bank burst open. One thing you may be asking yourself is where the aliens and earthquakes are in Anonymous…well there aren’t any but they might as well be considering that Mr. Emmerich has brought his army with him to destroy all hopes for a sensitive and nuanced film experience.
Anonymous introduces us to the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), a nobleman who had to abandon his creative touch for writing plays when he was inducted into aristocracy. In order to conceal his identity as a playwright, he gives his manuscripts to Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), a poet who then puts the earl’s plays into production at the local theatre under the name of Anonymous. However, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an illiterate stage actor and drunk catches onto the scheme and takes authorship for himself under the intention of Blackmailing the Earl. As Oxford’s most famous works are put on the stage, they become ever more politically motivated – calling the Queen Elizabeth I’s chief advisor, Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), into disrepute in order to pull the Earl of Essex into favourable light to replace the aged queen as the next king of England. Throughout the film we are given insight into why Oxford had to keep his writing secret in addition to his hidden relationship with the Queen in their youth and the illegitimate son that it bore.
Roland Emmerich’s drama suit is a few sizes too small and the way he executes the film carries his well known “in-your-face” approach. It never lets go of the idea that it wants to sell you the conspiracy rather than providing a convincing tale to the possibility of a past we never knew of. While he may not be unleashing devastation on terra-firma, Emmerich makes damn sure to destroy any compelling storytelling that might have resulted from a director that could have brought out the intricate, well paced plot that might have been.
Amongst its many faults, Anonymous suffers from being over-stuffed with content. Not only are there a plethora of main and supporting characters but due to flashbacks, some are effectively multiplied due to their changing personalities. Each iteration of the Earl of Oxford is interesting but the volleying between the multitude of frequent flash backs throughout the film frustrates the continuity of the character. The technical execution of the plot also becomes muddled and convoluted as multiple temporal instances are introduced. Then again the subject matter itself is a little on the stale side. Shakespearian historians may find the film bearable due to the context but for the rest of the human race, Anonymous really doesn’t have much appeal and comes across as an irrelevant stuffy history film rather than a modern conspiracy.
With all of its flaws, Anonymous does get some things right. For one, the costume and aesthetic design are authentically gorgeous with careful attention being paid to the fashion of Elizabethan England. If anything, Roland Emmerich should be noted for his visual prowess. The landscape of London is stunningly realised like never before. Another highpoint for the film would have to be the performances of the cast, specifically Rhys Ifans. Ifans makes himself the Earl of Oxford and holds that role till the end showing a multilayered, complex individual with the idiosyncrasies that the role demands. Also to be noted is Vanessa Redgrave’s role as Elizabeth I, who carries herself well as the decrepit queen. The other characters though leave much to be desired as their talents are squandered by uneven screen time and pacing that exposes only snippets of activity for each.
If you can get over the technical downfalls of this film, there is some entertainment value to be found. On the surface it is beautiful and is complimented by some stellar performances. Be warned though, those with no interest in Shakespeare or Elizabethan England best look elsewhere or risk boredom.
In the end though, tragedy befalls Anonymous – and it goes by the name of Emmerich.
I apologise for not having a review out yesterday, unfortunately the baby bird that Chanel and I were taking care of passed away and the loss hit us harder than we thought it would. Those in Johannesburg wanting to take a gander at some of the best student work the art/design industry has to offer, look no further than the FADA student exhibition held at the University of Johannesburg Bunting road campus. The exhibition is open till the 15th of November.