Director Roland Emmerich
Starring Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall, Vanessa Redgrave
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.