Film Review: Anonymous [London Film Festival 2011]

on Saturday, October 29, 2011
'Anonymous' (UK Release: 28 Oct '11) // Words: Saam Das

Anonymous film image Rhys Ifans

German film director Roland Emmerich is well known for his penchant for blowing the world up in such disaster movies as 'Independence Day', The Day After Tomorrow' and '2012'. As a result, the Tudor period drama 'Anonymous' comes as something of a surprise. The film questions the true identity of William Shakespeare in melodramatic fashion, sadly taking itself far too seriously.

The film posits the true writer of Shakespeare's works as the noble Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, played with surprising but pleasing poise by Rhys Ifans. It's a fringe theory, based on little evidence but that doesn't stop Emmerich and writer John Orloff from indulging their suspicions.

Rafe Spall portrays William Shakespeare, seen here as both something of a simpleton and a crafty pantomime villain, as he gleefully takes the credit for de Vere's work. The primary character however is that of playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) - a frustrating presence who finds himself stuck between Shakespeare and de Vere.

Queen Elizabeth I is also thrown into the mix, both in her vibrant youth (Joely Richardson) and as she succumbs to old age (played by Richardson's real-life mother, Vanessa Redgrave). Her role is pivotal, particularly with regards to her relationship with de Vere, and also in the more overarching storyline which reflects on a Royal power struggle.

Unfortunately, the developing "shocking revelations" become less and less potent and more and more arduous. It's all a little bit too ridiculous - from Shakespeare crowdsurfing his way around the Globe theatre to Emmerich's unwillingness to avoid the use of explosions (for once) in a film. 'Anonymous' sounds like a great deal of fun but sadly, it largely isn't.


'Anonymous' had its UK premiere at the 55th BFI London Film Festival 2011, and is on wide release throughout UK cinemas now.

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