Movie review – Who dares to de-scribe the Bard?

2011-11-04 12:03

Film: Anonymous (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Roland Emmerich
Featuring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall and David Thewlis
Rating: 7/10

To be, or not to be . . . a complete fraud who spent all his money on wine and women, and couldn’t write a word. This is writer John Orloff’s cheeky assertion in Anonymous.

About 150 years after William Shakespeare’s death, the whispers began about who really wrote the Bard’s 38 plays and 154 sonnets, and whether he wrote them all or, indeed, wrote any of them.

Shakespeare in Love cast doubt over how original his ideas were, intimating that he cleverly filched ideas from his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe is another playwright who doesn’t come out of Orloff’s imagination unscathed.

Anonymous assumes the authorship of the plays to be part of a much larger political conspiracy, a tussle for ultimate power in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Rhys Ifans, best known for his hilarious turn as the scruffy flatmate in Notting Hill, is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and the guy who really wrote every word.

De Vere is a man of peace and words who is born into a dangerous world where losing your head is as easy as the wrong words in the right ear.

David Thewlis is William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s most powerful and unscrupulous adviser.

Cecil is the chief enemy of De Vere’s words. This is supported by history as he, like De Vere, understood the importance of words to move the populace to action. It is also a common belief that he is the model for the ridiculous Polonius in Hamlet.

Queen Elizabeth is played with a delicious lack of decorum by Vanessa Redgrave, who portrays the queen in the twilight of her reign, while Redgrave’s real-life granddaughter, Joely Richardson, plays Queen Elizabeth at the start of her reign.

English drama flourished during her 44 years on the throne, and this film portrays her as a playful, petulant, theatre-loving monarch.

The film plays very fast and loose with history, but for all of us who speak English, anything that deals with the works of Shakespeare is relevant because his name – whoever might be behind it – is the pinnacle of proof of the power of words.

Anonymous is a great effort on the part of director Roland Emmerich, who has stepped far out of his apocalyptic comfort zone – his previous films include Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

However, make no mistake that he presents this complicated political thriller in such a way that even those scandalised by the disrespect shown to the English language’s most revered writer can’t look away.

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