Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, is a captivating tale about political intrigue, succession troubles, illicit relationships – basically the dark side of the English court life – and set in the Elizabethan England. Its main idea, however, is that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vera was the one who wrote all those famous plays and sonnets that are traditionally associated with the most celebrated and well-known dramatist and poet from Stratford-upon-Avon William Shakespeare. All the political aspects of the film are actually originated from the film’s main theme.
The storyline of Emmerich’s film is a part of the wider Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, which has remained a target of severe censure for many years by Shakespeare loyalists and believers in the traditional or the Stratfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship. In other words, both schools of thoughts regarding the authorship of widely-acclaimed plays like Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth have been in a situation what could be considered a ‘state of war’ with each other for many decades.
The film begins in modern-day New York City where the film’s narrator speaks of a darker side to Shakespeare’s career as a dramatist in Elizabethan London. Then, the film moves to a dark rainy night in London where Ben Jonson – Shakespeare’s contemporary and much-acclaimed playwright – is on the run from authorities with a sizeable bundle in his hands. He hides that bundle in the basement of a theatre and then allows himself to be arrested and taken in for questioning. However, the theatre burns down because the authorities torched the place in order to force Jonson to reveal himself. Then the story moves back five years earlier. However, it is difficult to describe the entire plot in detail here because the film’s storyline keeps switching back and forth and it would take up more space than necessary.
The best thing about the film is that even though its main theme is based on a question that is entirely academic and literary, it still makes for an entertaining and intriguing viewing. The direction, the cinematography, visuals and costumes – basically, all aspects of the film are so well-done that one ends up believing every single thing the film says about de Vere being the real writer of Shakespeare’s plays. Only after the film ends and you don’t really realise how actually lost you are in the world of Anonymous and end up spending the next few hours online researching all the information, all the trivia you can find about it. Yes, Anonymous really is one of those films that you would want to know more about after you finish watching it.
Both before and after its release, the film has been widely criticised by film critics worldwide merely because it lends itself to the theory that de Vere wrote the works traditionally attributed to Shakespeare. That, in its entirety, appears to be the reason why Anonymous has attracted so much negative criticism. But there are some critics who thought that the film itself was weak in terms of its execution and that it is not as well-made a film as was expected of Emmerich. They do not really consider the theoretical standpoint of the film to be the problem here but just its execution.
Their criticism is somewhat valid. The storyline is non-linear and the timeframe jumps around, reducing the viewer to stop trying to make any sense out of the timeframe skipping and just sit back and enjoy the events as they unfold. If you don’t do that, you might actually end up worrying yourself about the jumpy timeframe of the film.
If you search the film on Google, you will probably come across a special promotional video that features the film’s director, Emmerich who gives 10 reasons as to ‘why Shakespeare is a fraud’. His reasons do make sense, but in the wider context of the Shakespeare authorship question, his reasons are exactly what the followers of the Stratford theory of Shakespeare authorship say about the opposition camp: that the Oxfordians’ reasons are based on mere speculation.
Yes, all of this can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated members of the audience. By uninitiated, I mean those viewers who do not have a background in Literature. I only say this because the whole Shakespeare authorship question is actually an academic field of study. For centuries, scholars and academicians have researched, wrote about and argued over the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and still continue to do so.
In order to fully enjoy this film, one must keep an open mind. It does not matter whether or not you like Shakespeare. Neither does it matter if you support the Oxfordians or Stratfordians. All it matters is that you sit back and enjoy the film, savouring each and every moment of it. Because true or not, the film is truly worth a watch.
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