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Review: Anonymous

Kim Larkin

Tue Nov 08 2011

Rhys Ifans stars in Columbia Pictures’ “Anonymous.”

ROLAND Emmerich’s Anonymous is premised on one of the conspiracy theories surrounding the works of William Shakespeare. Theories that he wasn’t so much the talented playwright we know today, but a fraud accepting credit for the work of someone else, have been in circulation for years, but Anonymous is the first feature film to delve deeply into this idea.

The film follows the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – played by the charming Rhys Ifans – and his struggle with relationships, writing for the public and the manipulative William and Robert Cecil (David Thewlis and Edward Hogg). The film dramatises the controversey surrounding de Vere’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth I and the Cecils’ plot to succeed her, adding a complex political thread to the film’s narrative.


Those who speak fluent Shakespeare would have heard the conspiracy theories before, but Anonymous brings underground rumours forward and presents them as fact rather than possibility. In the film, de Vere uses playwright Ben Johnson as a caddie for his work, but through a misunderstanding the obnoxious and self-involved actor William Shakespeare takes credit – and here lies the dilemma.

Anonymous is a delicate balance between political thriller and historical drama, but speculation about the authorship of Macbeth and Hamlet is ultimately set aside as the film focuses on the political issues concerning Elizabeth I and her succession. The idea of a film based on royal successions and literary conspiracies may sound boring, but ignore the lack of any likeable characters and you will find a film so compelling and enthralling it utterly captivates from the moment it begins.

Pay close attention, because Anonymous can be hard to follow, with dialougue so fast that with each twist and turn you run the risk of missing a huge plot point completely. But even if you know nothing of Shakespeare, Elizabethan history or the British Monarchy you can still enjoy this mesmerising movie. The performances are incredible. Performing Shakespeare alone is hard enough, but to perform a Shakespearean film based on the conspiracies surrounding his work is far beyond comprehension and the cast deliver solid performances, even if the characters are so abhorrent.

It’s not unlikely that audiences would fall for the premise of this film. Although we don’t know for sure Shakespeare didn’t write his works, there is an element of truth to some of the conspiracy theorists arguments, such as the illiteracy of Shakespeare’s family.

Anonymous is not what you expect. It’s remarkable that a film with such an array of annoying characters, and a rather stiff academic concept, is so hypnotising that the film survives on plot alone.