After a cinematic diet consisting of The New York Film Festival, “DOC NYC” and Film Forum screenings, I decided to return to mainstream “multiplex” fare this past Saturday, via the AMC Loews Kips Bay Theatre, at 570 Second Avenue. After all, the last “multiplex” movie I saw was “Straw Dogs.” No wonder I had stayed away for so long.
It is perhaps ironic that the film I should choose for my “multiplex” return, after having seen so much art house fare, was actually an art house movie masquerading as a “multiplex” movie. “Anonymous” is an intelligent, sumptuous, period piece set in Elizabethan England. The story is a kaleidoscopic melding of history and very creative conjecture, which, among other things, says that William Shakespeare was an illiterate actor who was a front for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans). There is actually a term for this theory: Oxfordianism.
“Anonymous” has a ton of royal and political intrigue. One really has to be up on one’s English history to keep the characters and their motivations straight. As if this is not enough, the film’s beautiful and authentic looking period costumes, and actors’ facial hair, begin to blend, at points making it hard not to interchange certain characters.
The story’s premise is that de Vere, in order to avoid jeopardizing his political position, could not claim authorship of his plays, as they were considered seditious. He tries to funnel his work, first through playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) and then, by a fluke, through Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). Simultaneously there is a lot of jockeying for position among the royals, who shuffle alliances. Think “Survivor” 1580.
The film’s cast is formidable. It includes mother and daughter, Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, as the older and younger Queen Elizabeth. The great Derek Jacobi appears as a narrator standing on a modern day Broadway stage. He sets the scene, at film’s start, and then disappears until the end. I cannot help but think that if Jacobi stayed with us throughout he might have helped illuminate some of the historical details and intrigues.
Jacobi’s presence, coupled with a few more title cards and/or more expositional dialogue, might have made the film clearer. Yes, we all get the part about Shakespeare being a front. However, all of the film’s political intrigue, while looking very, well, intriguing, made me want to read up on Elizabethan history before taking another run at “Anonymous” (which is not such a bad thing).
“Anonymous” is a great film for admirers of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare’s plays. The film’s interpretations of the first performances of Shakespeare’s works, at the Globe and Rose theatres, are authentic and meticulous. Viewers not as well versed in history, or in Shakespeare, might find “Anonymous” to be tough sledding in certain parts.
Posted on October 31, 2011, in New and tagged Anonymous, Ben Johnson, Derek Jacobi, Edward de Vere, Globe Theatre, Jolie Richardson, Oxfordianism, Rhys Ifans, Rose Theatre, Shakespeare, Vanessa Redgrave. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.