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Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave

Total Film

December 2011

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Director Roland Emmerich
Starring Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave
Cert 12A

Rating **

Oh dear. Is Derek Jacobi doomed to be Hollywood’s new warning sign for misguided melodramas? Following his Dickens oration in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, he pops up here to deliver a deep-throated lecture on “our Shakespeare’s” importance, before branding him a big old fake. “And yet, and yet…” he rumbles.

“And yet…” is Anonymous’ cue to jet off into conspiracy-smitten waters, arguing that the 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) was the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays, the real Will (Rafe Spall) was a bratty buffoon who could barely spell his own name, and Elizabeth I gave blow jobs. Needless to say, Shakespeare purists will have their daggers drawn for Anonymous.

Lending Roland Emmerich’s wacky enterprise a shrewd aura of legitimacy, the quality Brit cast manage not to snicker into their dog collars (Ifans makes a dashing earl, while Vanessa Redgrave gets her crone on as the brown-toothed queen) and there’s some lovely staging of Shakespearean verse.

In the absence of ice ages, earthquakes and aliens, Emmerich lacks a forceful directorial signature, but the mucky streets of Elizabethan England are nicely realised; London’s 16th Century CG skyline looks stunning. As for whether the anti-Will brigade are right or wrong, this won’t serve their cause – the jaw keeps dropping at the daftness on display. Anonymous misses a trick, too. Spall’s comic turn sits awkwardly beside the rest of the cast, but had the whole film been played like that, it would have made a genius feature-length episode of Blackadder. If only, if only…

Incest, murder, betrayal… Anonymous tries to be Shakespearean while hatching a hysterical batch of conspiracies. Slickly told, mildly diverting but ultimately fraudulent.

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