Did you know nobody called William Shakespeare ever wrote the poems and plays synonymous with his famous name? No — they were actually penned by a rich, obnoxious, highly educated brat who found a horny young drunk and paid him to take credit for some of the most celebrated works in the English language. Not a bad gig.
At least that’s the premise of Anonymous, the latest film from director Roland Emmerich, who has made a name for himself by demolishing America’s iconic cities and landmarks, including the White House (Independence Day), New York City (Godzilla), downtown LA (The Day After Tomorrow) and the Statue of Liberty (2012).
This time Emmerich points his wrecking ball in the direction of English history, spearheading woozy-minded ridiculous revisionism that attempts to destroy — presumably for shits and giggles rather than some deeper motive — the legacy of the Bard.
In Elizabethan England, Edware De Vere (Rhys Ifans), the Earl of Oxford, has written a range of brilliant plays that, due to their political flavouring, he chooses not to publicly associate himself with. De Vere locates a local schlep — a struggling actor by the name of Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) — who he pays to take credit for his work. Meanwhile, the political backdrop depicts an England in chaos, with Days of Our Lives style revelations: illegitimate children, affairs, the occasional beheading and so on and so forth.
It’s in Emmerich’s cinematic DNA to zoom out and out and out into wide angle shots of SFX spangled carnage. In Anonymous he can’t resist cramming in battle images of frantic mobs in a film that clearly didn’t need them.
Much of the running time consists of well coiffed regal authorities conversing in dark hallways. Ignore the interesting ideas the script’s premise implies: Anonymous is not about how streaks of greatness can come from unexpected places or about how geniuses can be shunned from the history books, at least not in any meaningful ways. The acting is soporific, the writing dull and Emmerich’s fish-out-of-water direction is surprisingly consistent — he provides the film a steady ebb and flow — but lacklustre.
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Full disclosure: despite feeling well rested and wide awake when I entered the cinema, I slept through around 20 minutes of the second act.
Anonymous’s Australian theatrical release date: November 3, 2011.