Anonymous (2011)

So Romeo & Juliet were never real?!? WTF!??!

Who was Shakespeare? This Elizabethan drama imagines that the man we call the Bard really didn’t pen his body of timeless plays. The stages of London erupt in intrigue as the real author of the classics credited to Shakespeare comes to light.

Probably everybody who has ever heard of the idea that director Roland Emmerich (‘Godzilla’, ‘Independence Day‘, and plenty of other destruction-of-the-world films) would actually be taking the subject of William Shakespeare and the theories that he may have not written his own work. I know it sounds crazy but I think Emmerich is back in action.

The film is not really based on actual facts, but it’s more actually historical fiction that tells a story like plenty of other costume dramas. Hell, Shakespeare isn’t even really the main center of this film, he’s more just the dude that basically starts all of the shit-stirring in the first place.

I like this approach that Emmerich took because he actually kept me involved with the whole story, and his subtle touches of telling the story rather than just letting us know a major plot twist just by having one of the characters telling us. It’s a surprise that Emmerich can actually handle this subject matter and not over-do everything, but I guess after basically destroying the world one-by-one in every single one of his films, he realized that maybe he can just take it a little bit easy.

The script is very well-written because it not only shows how dirty and corrupt politics were back in the “Elizabethan” days, but also shows the connection that politics and arts have, maybe even being one and the same. Everybody was so against poetry and literature and to show how so many of these people could find relief and shelter with these two things was surely great because Emmerich obviously has a love for these work’s of Shakespeare and doesn’t let loose of that sight, even as the story gets more and more compelling. Almost every single costume drama seems like the same one before that, and this isn’t much different from plenty of others that we’ve seen before but the grand-spectacle that Emmerich brings to this subject matter is what made me really involved with this film.

Although it all went well with the writing and direction, I still felt myself having some problems with this film. The film is told in flash-backs which had me confused a lot throughout the whole film considering the fact that everybody still kind of looked the same from about the time their flashing back to, to the time they have the film take place in. There was also a lot of characters that we weren’t really told about until a conversation would come up and they would mention that persons name when they would be talking to him/her. This confused me much and sort of took me away from the film and how I followed it.

Another problem I ran into was the fact that this film is over 2 hours and 10 minutes long, which causes a problem considering the middle act begins to drag severely due to some sloppy soap-operaish things going down. When the film starts to dive into some territories like incest and bribery then it starts to feel a bit melodramatic but not as bad as I was expecting it to become.

There was a moment that comes up by the end of this film that feels like it should have been terribly tense and climactic, but instead something just wasn’t all that there for me to actually to feel like I was on the edge of my seat. I think it was the fact that the film takes so long going back-and-forth with its story that it doesn’t really bring out much tension when it came to its story in the present but regardless of this, I still liked where the film went. Basically I’m complaining about nothing.

Rhys Ifans has sort of been that dude on the side in a lot of comedies, just giving his little witty lines here and there, but he is terrific as De Vere. He gives it his all just about every scene and relies more on his serious and dramatic range, rather than his quirks and really has you root for this character because you know he’s a good man no matter what happens. Jamie Campbell Bower plays him as a young bull and is pretty lame considering that it’s obvious he struggles through a lot of his lines.

There have been so many Elizabeth’s over the years that it’s hard to choose who is the best but when it comes to playing a combo-meal of Elizabeth, you can’t get any better than Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, who are actual real-life mother and daughter. Both of them play their roles to perfection and give her this very sincere and realistic feel to Elizabeth, but still aren’t afraid to show the power they have over everybody around them. Redgrave is a lot more memorable but I think it was a real good choice having these two together was a real smart pick on Emerich’s part.

Rafe Spall is playing the man none other than William Shakespeare himself and is very funny as this drunken and sort of evil guy that just sinks into the fact that he is being hailed as “the greatest writer of all-time”. He brings a lot of fun to this role but honestly, what the hell were his parents thinking with that damn name? Sebastian Armesto plays Ben Jonson and is another weak-link because he for some odd reason, gives his character a deeper tone than it needed to be so he could sound more serious. It comes off as more hammy than actually realistic.

Consensus: Anonymous has its fair share of flaws, but also has some great qualities with some great performances, an interesting story that benefits from some smart theories, and has Roland Emmerich on top of his game doing something else other than just blowing up the world, one blockbuster at a time.



  1. Very interesting. I’m kind of on the fence about seeing this–historical movies usually tend to be very long and very dark, so I know I need to be in a sort of melancholy state in order to be able to sit through it all. Probably more of a stay-at-home movie for me, given my attention span, haha. Nice review. 🙂

    • It all depends on if you want to go out of your way to actually see a period piece about the writing of Shakespeare. I enjoyed myself but I could understand why others wouldn’t. Thanks!

  2. Nice review; this film has been generally trashed by the critics as it reduces the Shakespeare authorship debate to nonsense. About to teach HAMLET, so will point students to this film!

  3. Nice review! I agree about Armesto’s deep vocal tone. It really annoyed me, actually. Overall credit to Emmerich though, I didn’t think he’d be able to pull this off whatsoever.

  4. Dan, perhaps because I am a woman, but I enjoyed the melodrama. The other bonus girls is there are some dishy guys in this with long flowing waves of hair. So, even in the slower bits (although there weren’t that many) there was always something to watch. Thanks, Dan, for your post on my blog. I really appreciate it. I’ve followed you on twitter too now. Saw ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ last night. That one is a horror story. About to write my review now.

  5. I found the film surprisingly good. Sure, the film is long and melodramatic, but wonderfully crafted and well acted. Rhys Ifans is almost unrecognizable from his ‘The Replacements’ and ‘Notting Hill’ days. If Shakespeare were to write a modern day soap opera tragedy for the silver screen, ‘Anonymous’ might have been it.

  6. Interesting. It is like it is two different movies. I have just been at another site that completely slated it!!

    I love that about film

    Great writing as ever my friend

  7. Those flashbacks did get a little fuzzy. Would have been better if it was just a straight linear storyline not the back and forth back and forth as it were.

    The acting was really really quite good and Ifans just sold it. Also high points to Spall who was enjoyable in his high on himself obnoxiousness.

    Had higher than average hopes for this but it just was bogged down with its pretentiousness. Still, good to see something from Emmerich that wasn’t destruction and doom:P

    • True! I was surprised by how much I liked this but I can easily say that I had a great time and hopefully Emmerich will be able to keep this going for good now. Thanks Marc!

  8. The odd choice of Emmerich as director has lowered my expectations. On the other hand, the action scenes will no doubt be effective.
    Great review, particularly: “I guess after basically destroying the world one-by-one in every single one of his films, he realized that maybe he can just take it a little bit easy.”
    ha ha ( :
    Perhaps Emmerich is tired of the big dumb action movies?

  9. I too noticed that the characters looked almost the same in both the current and flashback parts..that was weird. I did not completely understand the part about Edward being the sibling to Elizabeth either.. that said, it was an entertaining movie. Brilliant review.

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