Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 2
Community: star rating
5 2 0
October 27, 2011

Did Shakespeare really write all those plays, or is the Bard really Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford? Sounds like the stuff of an academic thesis. Surprise! Anonymous is the latest epic from Roland Emmerich, the director who gets off on blowing stuff up in world-enders such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. It's only plausibility that goes up in flames this time. Say this for Emmerich, he's not stuffy. And he lucks out big-time with his cast. Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) plays Oxford with such fire and nobility you can almost believe he was the author of the Bard's timeless plays and sonnets. Disgrace to the royal line would follow if Oxford put his own name on his work, so rather than go with the trite Anonymous, he first considers hiring playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) as his surrogate. Failing that, he signs on with Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall – all ham on wry), an illiterate comic actor. And then Queen Elizabeth gets into the act. Played in her youth by a live-wire Joely Richardson and later by her mother, a glorious Vanessa Redgrave, the virgin queen takes more than Oxford's manuscripts to bed. TMZ would have a field day covering the incestuous doings in Elizabeth's 16th-century court.

Emmerich piles on more conspiracy theories than Oliver Stone as the queen's Puritan adviser William Cecil (David Thewlis) plots a takeover with his hunchback son, Robert (Edward Hogg), who schemes like Richard III to the letter. Master thespians Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance are called on to sample the Bard's greatest hits and give credence to a movie that is nonsense to the nth degree. As the Bard probably would not say, Anonymous is some crazy shit.

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