Review: 8 out of 10
There will no doubt be debate over the authenticity of “Anonymous”, a film that calls Shakespeare an outright fraud, but director Roland Emmerich’s flick is so good at conspiracy theory and political intrigue that it didn’t really matter to me if the facts were to be or not to be.
Rhys Ifans is perfect as the proud and lyrical Earl Of Oxford, a man in love with poetry and the written-word but born into the sort of high standing political class that looks down on such people as writers. So he hands off his writings to Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), a popular young play-write too idealistic to claim the writings as his own, but is surprised to find buffoonish actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, very funny) taking credit for the plays when the crowd starts calling them masterpieces.
Also wrapped up in this is the scandalous relationship of Queen Elizabeth and Oxford during their youth. Jamie Campbell Bower and Joely Richardson play the younger versions, while Vanessa Redgrave plays the older queen. David Thewlis is also on hand as the villainous William Cecil, who has a hand in most of the Queens affairs for many years.
Arranged marriages, feuds (Johnson and Shakespeare, Oxford and Cecil), love affairs, secret love children, twists, murder, shady characters, a very impassioned look inside the theater where the plays were performed, power-plays to be Elizabeth’s successor, and bloody uprising all follow.
This may be a lot to take in, but John Orloff’s screenplay hits all the bases of a Shakespearean play and Emmerich’s film is both darkly suspenseful and poetically beautiful, complemented by outstanding acting from the entire cast, which also includes Edward Hogg as Cecil’s equally villainous son, and refined dialogue that lifts this soap opera to near perfection.