Film review: Identity crisis

This film lacks a true depiction of life in the colourful and politically charged 15th century.

Ayesha Abdul Razzak May 22, 2012

Anonymous is a film based on the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship — the idea proposes that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare.

The film begins interestingly enough in a theatrical setting with the narrator Derek Jacobi questioning our beliefs on the authenticity of Shakespeare. This ‘what if’ questioning continues from the stage to the period setting of 15th century England, where a very troubled Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) is running away from the King’s men. He holds in his hands, the script for a seditious performance mocking Richard III. As he hurriedly buries the pages in the now scorched Globe Theatre, he is caught.

What begins next is a tortuous and absolutely ridiculous elucidation of the Oxfordian theory. Brought up as a noble by William Cecil (David Thewlis) and given the privileges of a patrician education, the young Edward de Vere (Jamie Campbell Bower) first comes to the attention of the young Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson) through his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in court.

Forty years later, the Queen (now played by Vanessa Redgrave) is nearing the end of her life, and the question on everyone’s minds is who would succeed her, especially Lord Cecil who has his own designs on the crown. The Earl (now played by Rhys Ifans) has his own strong feelings about the matter and expresses himself by writing dozens of plays, exposing the backstage intrigue of the royal household.

Since theatre and plays are taboo and to admit authorship of a play would demean the Earl’s standing in life, the Earl begins to pass his plays along to Ben Johnson, who promotes them as his own. But when a drunken oaf named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) claims authorship of the plays, everything goes haywire.

This film lacks a true depiction of life in the colourful and politically charged 15th century. It allocates most of its time looking at backstage intrigue in the royal court rather than probing the question of the authorship of the Shakespearian plays, which is far more interesting. The movie constantly switches back and forth between the two main periods, making it extremely difficult to keep track of the story and characters.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 20th, 2012.


Carlo | 9 years ago | Reply

The big buzz in the UK is Ros Barber's novel The Marlowe Papers, on the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare theory.

Great reviews from Telegraph, Guardian, Express, and Financial Times.

Feroz Khan | 9 years ago | Reply

People should not comment upon subjects about which they know nothing. First of all, 15th century England would be the 1400s and not the 1600s, which was actually the 17th century. The movie, in each scene, provides enough clues to make the determination of who was actual author of plays associated as Shakespearean. However, one needs to have a very good knowledge of the English history and politics of the time and of the plays attributed to Shakespeare themselves. The movie is not for an average person and is certainly not for those who get their information from Wikipedia courtsey of Google! The movie questions the authorship of the plays and poses the irony that history never remains the same but changes with each new generation as new evidence questioning the past comes to light. Everything must be questioned and nothing must be accepted for it is, but then there are some people who cannot understand this statement.

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