Film Review: Political thriller Anonymous delves into the shady side of William Shakespeare


Even suggesting that William Shakespeare isn't the writer many have thought him to be is a huge accusation, but Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, does just that. Categorized as a "political thriller," the movie fulfills its purpose of coloring Shakespeare as a fraud and more.

The plot follows the supposedly real author of the plays that bear Shakespeare's name, the earl of Oxford, Rhys Ifans. The earl meets with Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to convince him to put his name on the many plays, poems and narratives he has written because an earl is not meant to write. When William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) sees the reception of the plays, he anticipates the fame and money to come and offers to take over Jonson's part.

Eventually the earl of Oxford formulates a plan to use his plays to strike a diplomatic revolt against Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave). The revolt isn't meant to be a revolution; it's just intended to keep the throne in the House of Tudors and away from King James of Scotland. Secrets, death, staged drama and messy hands permeate the film as the plot unfolds.

An interesting aspect of the story is that it's presented as a play itself, complete with a narrator in the very beginning and the last few minutes of the film. Each of the actors in the movie is also an actor in a play about the fraud of Shakespeare, which modern people are watching.

The acting was good, especially when you consider that the movie's actors were playing actors who themselves were playing Shakespearean actors acting out Shakespeare's plays. The setting was realistic, and each character maintained this realism. The story was original as well, creatively illustrating the lives of these English noblemen and playwrights.

The film had a number of issues, though. There was no distinguishable climax. Except for the first few minutes, the mood was intense and remained elevated. Any kind of rise or dip in the drama was absent, making the story static and uninteresting toward the end.

Along those lines, with one exception, each plot twist was completely predictable. Characters didn't develop much either. The earl of Oxford, for example, was the "perfect guy" for nearly all of his screen time even if he couldn't balance a checkbook. It just made the film seem pointless once the credits rolled, despite the intense final lines. It's unclear if this is a movie intended to disprove Shakespeare's literary contributions, present the life of these people and an alternative truth or just entertain.

If you're an English, theater or history major you should see this film at some point, though not necessarily in the theaters. If you don't already have those interests, you won't miss much if you don't see Anonymous. It wasn't a bad film; it simply didn't offer much in entertainment value.