FILM REVIEW: ANONYMOUS (2011) WAS SHAKESPEARE A FRAUD?
Review by Author Carol James
It can be classified as a thriller with political content, but also as a controversial historical drama about England’s Golden Age.
At the very beginning in a theatrical atmosphere we have the one and only Derek Jacobi who inserts us in the revealing of the truth about Shakespeare.
The story took us at the time of the Elizabethan era or more precisely at the very end of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) reign passing through the political intrigues from William Cecil (David Thewlis) and his son Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg) over her succession.
We see London where ordinary people struggle for their own place and moment in history by creating a public theatre called The Rose. This place is often visited by a nobleman Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the 17th Earl of Oxford who is actually the central figure.
There he sees how easily spectators can be influenced by interpreting stories. In the same place another important figure, Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) a play writer is arrested for insurrection against the established order through his play.
This is the moment where de Vere decides to use Jonson’s position and employ his plays written in secrecy with a hidden message for the spectators (the people) and promote the rebel cause of Robert Devereux (Sam Reid), 2nd Earl of Essex against the Queen.
It was rumored that the Earl of Essex is an illegitimate son of Elizabeth I, what makes the cause even greater vis a vis Cecil’s plan to bring James VI of Scotland (James Clyde), son of Mary, Queen of Scotland as a crowned king of England and end the Tudor dynasty.
Jonson is rescued by de Vere in return to materialize the plan.
The first play is Henry V, and the crowd bursts out for the writer’s name. But he could not get risque his name so as an author puts a semiliterate, drunk and below average young actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). Although this was an unexpected start, Jonson will stay confidant to de Vere.
The other legendary plays follow, such as Romeo and Juliet where Shakespeare himself is to play Romeo. Hamlet is performed at court for the Queen in which there is also a hidden moment (death of Polonius) that tells us for the unresolved past between de Vere and the Cecils.
This animosity is based on the love affair between de Vere and the Queen during their youth (Edward de Vere – Jamie Cambell Bower /Elizabeth I Joely Richardson) because de Vere is Willliam’s son in law for his daughter Anne (Amy Kwolek/Helen Baxendale).
Edward de Vere and Elizabeth have a son, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel), whose identity is known only by de Vere and the Cecils. He wrote Venus and Adonis to remind Elizabeth of their love.
But Shakespeare discovers the true author of the plays and extorts money, and that’s how he builds the Globe Theatre and gains patronage. Jonson is disappointed, they have a quarrel, but he fails to reveal the fraud. Shakespeare is dangerous, even Christopher Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle) ends up dead for discovering the truth about the other author.
The climax of the story is the performance of the play Richard III in which Robert Cecil is ridiculed (he was a humpback), but also sways the crowd and starts a riot that will help Essex and Southampton to march in the Palace and claim the throne in peace. But the plan failed because of the betrayal of Ben Jonson to Robert Cecil, so Essex and Southampton are arrested as rebels and are set to be executed.
This happens in front Edward de Vere eyes, and Robert Cecil then tells him a disturbing secret about Elizabeth’s many illegitimate sons including de Vere himself what makes them caught in incest. Edward de Vere is broken, but he has a private meeting with Elizabeth and tells her about their son, so Earl of Southampton is saved. However, she insists that the true author of “Shakespeare’s“ plays is never to be revealed.
Robert Cecil wanted the manuscript destroyed like he has stated “ Plays are the work of the devil – born from a cesspool of plague, whoredom, thievery, fornication, and heresy“ so he burns The Rose theatre with them inside it.
But Ben Jonson at the end discovers they’ve survived the fire and leaves us with the thought that the truth is still out there.
Director: Rolland Emmerich
Writer: John Orloff
Runtime: 130 min
Interesting: Joely Richardson who plays young Elizabeth is Vanesa Redgrave’s daughter
About the Author: Carol James is an EssayLab psychology department writer and senior editor. She has MA degree in social sciences and is an excellent specialist in this field. Carol worked with numerous materials on the subject and is eager to share her knowledge with our readers.