No probably not.
"Was Shakespeare a Fraud?"

Welcome to Thursday at The Tagline! Because I'm sure everyone else in the world is as interested in movies about conjectural British History during the Elizabethan Era, I thought today I would review Anonymous, which finally made its way to the top of my "Stuff I'll Watch Some Day" list over the weekend. Starring Rhys Ifans (He was Curt Connors in The Amazing Spider-Man) as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who if you know your English history was notable as a patron of the arts during the reign of Elizabeth Tudor, and also was notable as a general fuck-up, who was born as heir to the second oldest and perhaps richest earldom in the kingdom, and died having lost his entire estate and fortune, over a long life of mishaps, intrigue, and failed ventures. The movie puts forth, as a number of people have since the late 1920s, that Shakespeare was not the author of his works. Instead, Oxfordian theorists suggest that Edward de Vere was the true author, and that for various political reasons he chose to remain anonymous. This historically real and factually tenuous theory is the central conceit in the movie, and Oxford's love of poetry and theater (which is a matter of historical record) at odds with the puritanical views of the ruthless Cecils (well they're played as the villains in the movie) serve to propel the tragic events of the plot forward. I beg everyone to forgive me, because I am incapable of divorcing my experience with this movie from both literary scholarship and English history (and really if you are aware of either I don't see how you could) and so this post may end up being a history lesson in addition to being about a movie. 

Elizabeth and her def posse.
It bears noting before I get too far into things, that this movie was directed by Roland Emmerich. For those who give a crap about who directed anything, Emmerich has directed a number of successful films including Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, The Patriot, Godzilla and Stargate. What you'll note about those movies is that they are not super concerned about things like science, history, or reality, though certainly many of their plots hinge on scientific subjects, for some reason that is totally unknown to me. I bring this up because Historical and factual license are going to come up when I start talking about my most serious issues with this film (and with Emmerich himself). Before we get there let's talk about the plot a bit. While certainly exciting and making frequent allusions to Shakespearean works, I had a problem coping with the erratic structure of the film, which tells its story through frequent use of flashbacks and events from the past. I honestly was not always immediately aware that I was actually watching a flashback, and for a while I was confused because I hadn't realized that the Earl of Southampton (secretly the bastard of de Vere and Queen Elizabeth in the film) was not the same character as a younger Edward de Vere. I only really figured it out through his interactions with the younger Elizabeth (portrayed by Joely Richardson, who's actual mother Vanessa Redgrave played the older Elizabeth). What I mean to say is that the plot jumps around a bit too much, and with not enough telegraphing for you to always immediately realize what is going on. With a cast that includes a lot of supporting characters, this can seriously disconnect you from what is happening, and I feel like the movie took a while to really fall into decent pacing.

Meet Ben Jonson. He was a cool guy.
That said, as someone who appreciates Shakespeare and the time in which he lived, I enjoyed watching a movie that took liberal license with history and its characters, rearranging them in a more dramatic fashion (just as Shakespeare himself did in his history plays). I think you really need to understand though that this work is PURE fiction for almost the entire duration. All over you'll find people who were dead when they should have been alive, alive when they should have been dead, and generally only sort of resembling what actual records tell us about them. The Cecils for instance are shown in the movie as being strong advocates for making James (who was then the King of Scotland) the King of England in the wake of Elizabeth's death (he did in fact, thanks in large part to Elizabeth never naming a successor). In contrast, William Cecil actually feared James, because of his part in the execution of James' mother, Mary Queen of Scots. I'm not generally opposed to revisionist history so long as it's played as historical fiction, but I think in this case a lot of advocates for the movie, and especially Emmerich himself, were a little carried away with their own fiction.

This is Shakespeare, he's a real shithead.
Emmerich himself had accused Stratfordians (scholars who support the conventional belief that Shakespeare's plays were, in fact written by him) of being "pissed off because we called them on their lies" which seems like a fairly brazen statement coming from a movie director perhaps made most successful by fucking Independence Day. Accusing the vast majority of Shakespearean scholars as being liars for no reason other than that they refute a hypothesis put forth by a Hollywood movie you directed seems pretty ballsy, but then again I would suspect he probably said that just to try and build up press for his movie. The entire promotional movement behind the movie is very curious, because Emmerich has both asserted that it is a work of fiction and that it is a genuine literary hypothesis, and it just can't be both. I might suggest that Emmerich stick to making movies where he blows up the White House, and otherwise shut the hell up when he's clearly blowing it out his ass.

He sure looks dastardly doesn't he?
That being said, the movie is gorgeous, and builds an appropriate sense of atmosphere. It is also, as Emmerich is famous for, a pleasing "popcorn movie" that presents a good blend of action and plot, with an ensemble cast of famous personages from history (however fictionalized they may be). As a movie by itself, divorced from ideas about history or the ego surrounding it, Anonymous is a fairly enjoyable, if a bit jumbled, work of historical fiction. Its staggered release led to it ultimately fairing weakly in the box office (making back barely half of its 30 million dollar budget) and ultimately it was overlooked and forgotten by the movie-going public at large, despite eventually seeing a wide release. If you have an opportunity to see it, and enjoy historical fiction (even if it emphasizes the fiction side of the equation) I suggest you give it a watch.

That's all for today! Join me again next week as I attempt to keep myself amused while the box office is dominated by basically nothing I give a shit about (I guess I could try and catch Don Jon or Insidious 2?) If anyone wants to suggest something, now is the moment.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Project Wonderful Ad