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Anonymous (2011)

November 25, 2011

MY CALL:  With a commanding performance by Rhys Ifans, this story depicts a greater tragedy than Shakespeare himself had ever penned.  The least tragic element in this film is that Shakespeare is a fraud.  This film left me wowed.  [B+]  IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  Shakespeare lovers looking for a change of pace may turn to Shakespeare in LoveFUN FACT:  The two actresses who play Queen Elizabeth are mother and daughter.

I was getting far too comfortable seeing Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Pirate Radio, The Replacements) playing shaggy, directionless buffoons.  FINALLY he has received a strong lead playing the Earl of Oxford.  In this compelling period piece it is he, and not the otherwise famed name, who actually penned the works of William Shakespeare.  Growing up in a noble household in which poetry and theater are analogous with sin, he finds himself the recipient of voices, rich with prosaic observations of life, which plague him until they are inked to parchment.  The products of which are the works of Shakespeare.

This comes to pass as the Earl bribes a mediocre playwright (Ben Johnson, played by Sebation Armesto) to claim his plays as his own.  However, when the time comes to assume credit before his invigorated audience, Johnson hesitates.  Opportunistically, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), a desperate actor in the play privy to Johnson’s secret deal, steps forward and assumes the role.  What ensues is a web of political deception and betrayal, littered with twists which culminate in a tale more tragic than “Shakespeare” himself ever penned.  While I’d love to explain how, I’m NO SPOILER.

Online reviews of Anonymous vary wildly in ratings from “amazing” to “boring.”  While I advocate that my opinion is unique to any other and we all have our preferences, I have difficulty understanding how anyone but an ill-educated child could possibly find this “boring” unless we’re confusing “boring” with “I didn’t like it.”  In defense of other aspects of this film, the set design and cinematography (occasionally CGI-enhanced) didn’t quite receive the budget it deserved.  At first, this was disappointing.  However, as I watched on, I appreciated how the budget was used and enjoyed shots of poverty-stricken cityscapes and aerial views of gross architecture.  I get it—these sets are expensive.  It is also worth mentioning that I did not enjoy the characters of William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson.  These characters do little more than serve humbly as the spoon delivering the castor oil that is the “truth” of the plot.  I won’t rule out that they could have been written considerably better, but this movie is more about the Earl of Oxford, political subterfuge, and his secret.  It’s not about the over-the-top, illiterate William Shakespeare.  In fact, the least tragic element of this movie was Shakespeare’s fraud.

My defense of these flaws clearly identifies my stance on the movie.  I liked it a lot—really, I loved it.  Rhys Ifans has never failed to entertain me, but has never entertained me like this.  The Earl is strong yet desperate, vulnerable with respect to his work yet callous to his wife and civic responsibilities, and deeply methodical yet inconsiderate of consequence.  The Earl is the object of political and romantic turns which drive the story forward, and he is well-complemented by the Queen (played young and old by Joely Richardson of Nip/Tuck and Vanessa Redgrave, respectively) and the manipulative Cecils (played by David Thewlis and Edward Hogg).

By the way, the ending…very heavy, very touching, very real.

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