|Starring||Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave, Edward Hogg, Joely Richardson, Xavier Samuel, Jamie Campbell-Bower|
|Release||28 OCT (US) 28 OCT (UK) Certificate 12A|
An obvious departure for Roland 'If it has tourists, I'll fuck it up' Emmerich, Anonymous is a hugely ambitious story: the Shakespeare conspiracy only amounts to half the plot, with Vanessa Redgrave's Queenie getting a pleasing amount of screen time. Alas (I'm using old-timey language), Emmerich has over-reached somewhat, and the story suffers from too many characters, too much inbreeding and too many flashbacks, which you literally have to place in chronological order depending on the length and shade of David Thewlis' beard. When the story moves away from Shakey and onto the throne, Anonymous loses focus and sags under the weight of its own florid pretentiousness.
Thankfully, the cast are game and, for the most part, have correctly gauged the tone as 'camper than Russell Grant's VW'. Ifans plays De Vere as a borderline schizo ("I'd go mad if I didn't write down the voices!"), while Rafe Spall plays Shakespeare as a sort of ye olde David Brent, cavorting and capering with little respect for accuracy but with one eye on the cheap seats. This Bard isn't quite the literary genius history would have you believe – according to Anonymous, he's an illiterate degenerate who's fond of boozing and bear-baiting. Also he invented crowd-surfing, but that one might actually be true. At any rate, most of the movie's high points are his.
Only Edward Hogg (Bunny And The Bull) is lumped with a role without humour – the one-dimensional, hunchbacked villain of the piece, Robert Cecil – but he does rise above the boos and hisses to make something of insubstantial material. That's fairly typical of Anonymous: an above-average actor trying their best to elevate stuffy dialogue to digestible levels. "My God," gasps Helen Baxendale of her playwright husband. "You aren't... writing again... are you?" Hopefully the irony of a film that celebrates the wonder of the written word despite being poorly written won't be lost on everyone.
That's more screenwriter John Orloff's fault rather than Emmerich's, however, and despite the film's myriad flaws, you have to applaud the director for his change of direction and refusal to dumb down a sprawling, complex story for those more used to his disastrous oeuvre. Don't let the fact that it's different – or unadulterated bullshit of the highest order – put you off a story that, in truth, is more interesting than it is wholly entertaining or accurate. I mean, honestly. Shakespeare was a fraud? Pah. Next you'll be telling me the world isn't going to end in 2012.
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