Intrigue is afoot in "Anonymous." Rhys Ifans as Edward de Vere.

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.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 31, 2011, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. After reading so many ignorant reviews of this film, stumbling on your review is like finding an oasis in the desert. Thank you for having the courage to look at this issue without reflecting the echo chamber of the academic establishment and the Stratford tourist industry. We are living in a time of great change and people are clinging desperately to what is safe and comfortable. It takes people like yourself who have a passion for the truth to wake people up.

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