Who was the real Shakespeare? This period ham won’t leave you any wiser


© 2011 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Beverly Blvd LLC. All Rights Reserved

Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson
Time Out rating:
Japanese title: Mou Hitori no Shakespeare

Seems Bill Shakespeare wasn't being entirely honest with us. According to Roland Emmerich's handsomely mounted slice of period ham, the artist supposedly behind Kings Henry, Richard and Lear, Prince Hamlet, and those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was an illiterate actor who didn't write a single word of his influential plays. Instead, the scribe was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), a nobleman touched by the muse who rescinded authorship of these great works because of his aristocratic heritage. In Elizabethan England, after all, playwriting is the rabble's occupation.

This theory does have some real-life academic support (go and Google 'anti-Stratfordians'), though Emmerich is less concerned with probing the thinking behind the hypothesis than indulging in a lot of overwrought, time-jumping court intrigue. Shadowy corridors are the norm and bastard children are plentiful; even the Virgin Queen herself, played at different ages by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson, turns up to show how those 16th-century royals were in perpetual heat. (De Vere's words aren't just the height of artistic expression, but a potent unbutton-that-bodice! aphrodisiac. Who knew?) It's all monumentally silly, like a very special episode of Showtime's historical fiction soap The Tudors, though the film's sound and fury becomes highly entertaining whenever genuine Shakespeare interpreters like Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi are onscreen. But other than ludicrously pulpy fun, Anonymous, true to its title, ultimately signifies nothing.

Anonymous opens nationwide on December 22

By Keith Uhlich
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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