The kind of one-note, overblown performances that Roland Emmerich (2012) directs into his pictures apparently only work when the world is exploding or freezing or being blown up by aliens.
Anonymous takes the stance that it was a nobleman, The Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1), who was the true author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare; that Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, One Day) was simply an illiterate, opportunistic, party-boy actor who saw his chance at a payday and took it. If this were the crux of the story, the film might be more interesting, but it spends most of it’s time wallowing in questions of illegitimate births, backstabbing, and incest surrounding Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, The Whistleblower).
The best thing about Anonymous is seeing Elizabethan London get the Emmerich treatment. I’ve never seen a period film with so many sweeping helicopter shots soaring over gorgeously CGI recreated 16th century London. The set design is fantastic, the costumes are gorgeous, and a couple of the performances rise above the lackluster material. There are a couple of moments—a slice of a performance of Henry the XIII and a beheading, in particular—that are very moving and truly effective, but for those couple of real moments there are 20 or 30 scenes that feel rushed and thrown together, emotively written, but passed over so we can get to the next big set piece. The most unfortunate thing here is Redgrave’s Queen Elizabeth I, who is written as a promiscuous scatterbrain, guided through every decision while she blushes like a schoolgirl remembering her youthful tumbles with the pretty boys. Speaking of that, actually, there’s a surprising amount of melodramatic bedroom activities on display for a PG-13 movie, replete with heavy breathing threaded through Shakespeare’s verse.
My personal opinion: It’s pretty enough to look at, but it feels like a failed experiment. I also prefer to think that a peasant drunkard like Will was the one actually holding the pen. I think that’s more interesting than thinking it was some educated intellectual. –Jake Jarvi