Review: Anonymous

Anonymous, a Roland Emmerich film, takes us back to the England of the 16th and 17th century. A time full of political intrigues, forbidden love, illegitimate children and fighting for power and the English throne.

The most famous of all playwrights lived in those days: William Shakespeare. But we don’t know exactly who that man was. This film presents one of the many theories about him.

One day the playwright Benjamin Johnson is arrested in the middle of his performance, for his play is considered to be insurgent. He is released by Edvard de Vere, the Earl of Oxford himself and also writer of many plays. He orders Johnson to perform the plays that put him under arrest, but under the Earl’s name, as his own writing had been overlooked. Furious about the very idea, Johnson tells the actor William Shakespeare all about it. Poor as Shakespeare is, he decides to sign and perform the plays instead of Johnson and so the story starts to take a bad turn.

At the same time Queen Elisabeth I is about to die without naming an heir for the throne. The Cecils, royal advisers to the Queen, try everything to hide the fact that the Earl of Southampton is her illegitimate son and therefore the legal heir in the succession to the throne. Afraid to lose their grip on power, they prefer King James of Scotland, who promised to the Cecils to keep them, to become King.

Many leaps in the story line and a complicated plot make this historical drama not an easy film to watch. Still, it is worth watching because of the excellent insights into the English history and the fascinating demonstration of what seems to be a very likely theory about Shakespeare’s true identity. The acting, especially that of Sebastian Armesto as Benjamin Johnson, is quite superior. The cast with Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elisabeth I and Rhys Ifans in the role of Edvard de Vere is very well chosen. Beautiful costumes and magnificently detailed sets as well as wonderful music capture the ambiance and the soul of the 17th century. The beauty of Shakespeare’s English shines through many scenes in a most enchanting way.

Therefore I recommend this film to everyone, who loves the English language and who would like to take a closer look at the dark but fascinating England of 300 years ago.