Was Shakespeare a fraud? Who cares, says ELLIE CHAN; the Anonymous still makes great watching.

anonymous derek jacobi Drama Ellie Chan Film film review history queen rhys ifans roland emmerich Shakespeare

Directed by Roland Emmerich

[rating: 5/5]

Oh the things lost to the haze of history. The genuine circumstances of Christopher Marlowe’s death; the truth of the Virgin Queen’s sexual appetite and the array of gallant bastards; the evil of the Cecils; and of course, the true identity of William Shakespeare.

Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is perhaps the most bizarre study in Bardolatry yet. As Derek Jacobi majestically marched onto a Broadway Stage at the opening of the film, I was a little suspicious. Was this an attempt to exorcise the ghost of William Shakespeare once and for all?

In a word, no. Take Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford, for example. The true Shakespeare, as Emmerich would have us believe, this shady character flits through the film like the ghost of tortured poetic genius past, uttering pained truisms.

Was Shakespeare a fraud? Probably not, but the film is still worth a watch.

Particular gems include: ‘The voices…  I can’t stop the voices!’ and: ‘My poems are my soul!’ Emmerich’s Shakespeare is no real being but an apparently free-form collection of words, which drifts amongst the scenes of Anonymous seducing Elizabeth I, inciting a mob against cannon fire, and reducing Ben Jonson to tears.

This film goes full circle. William Shakespeare may be a drunken, illiterate charlatan, but ‘William Shakespeare’ is untaintable.

Anonymous presents a fantasy mock-Tudor England that is visually stunning. And so it doesn’t appear to matter that the Earl of Oxford (in patriotic enthusiasm) has pulled a Queen of Hearts and painted his roses red to create a real Tudor rose. Or that St. Paul’s, like an alien spacecraft, has teleported itself a century back in time. Nor that the film appears to insist that a writer should have a life as colourful as their works, complete with Oedipal relationship. Well, apart from the fact that Sony is issuing a study guide based on the film for American schoolchildren…

But nonetheless, this is a gloriously implausible film. Watching it becomes a little like watching a pantomime, only with slightly less drag. I’m not sure if it was meant to produce quite so many laugh out loud moments, but laugh out loud you will.

It is a brilliant example of the enduring desire to uncover conspiracy everywhere, even to explain the explained. But above all, English students of Cambridge, I urge you to see it; nothing else I have ever encountered will make your degree feel quite so worthwhile.