Film Review “Anonymous”

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and Sebastian Armesto
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 10 mins
Columbia Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

I must admit I scratched my head when I saw that Roland Emmerich was directing “Anonymous.” The man who gave us “Independence Day,” “Godzilla” and “2012” was now going to tackle 17th Century England. And with no aliens or monsters in sight.

17th Century England (like I said). It’s a hard time to be a writer. Especially a playwright. Hit the wrong nerve or upset the wrong nobleman and you’ll find yourself thrown into prison for sedition in a heartbeat. We are introduced to a few of the struggling authors, including Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) and Christopher Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle). Thankfully the writers have a fan in the Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere (Ifans). But the Earl has a selfish reason for attending plays. He’s a closeted writer himself. What with poetry and the like being referred to as “the devil’s work,” Eddie can’t just put on a show whenever he wants. He decides to entrust his work to Johnson. The Earl wants Johnson to put his name on his writing. In a quandary and unsure of what he should do, Johnson confides in an acting pal of his. When the first mysterious play is greeted with applause, and Johnson waffles on whether to claim authorship, the actor decides to take credit. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Mr. William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall).

Told against the backdrop of a battle for the throne, “Anonymous” is an amusing story that runs much longer then it should. It’s actually two stories in one. One follows young Edward (Jamie Campbell Bower) being sent to live with the family of the young queen Elizabeth I. The other follows Edward as he silently watches his words being immortalized on stage in play after play, silently acknowledging to himself the accolades his position prevents him from receiving. The cast seems game for the time period jumps but the film sometimes slows down and it becomes unclear what period you’re watching. And what a cast it is. Acting royalty Redgrave is strong as the elder Elizabeth, with her daughter, Joely Richardson, playing her as a younger woman. Another second generation actor is Spall, whose father, Timothy, is probably best known as Wormtail in the “Harry Potter” films. Heck, even the great Derek Jacobi shows up to bookend the film. And I have to give special mention to actor Edward Hogg, who apparently thought he was playing Count Rugen in “The Princess Bride.” His appearance, his manner…even his costume…make him a dead ringer for Christopher Guest in that film. Though I’m pretty sure Hogg only has five fingers on his right hand.

The script, by “A Mighty Heart” scribe John Orloff, is full of little bits of trivia that even the most pedestrian fans of the Bard will pick up. It also includes some great lines. “All artists have something to say,” De Vere tells Jonson. Otherwise they’d all make shoes.” The story is entertaining but it drags on to a very undramatic ending. Hello King James I of Scotland, you big poof!

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