October 27, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


ANONYMOUS:  Watch It At Home – The Bard Was A Beard, Claims Wheezy Expose


ANONYMOUS is history tailored for the 1%.

Although screenwriter John Orloff and director Roland Emmerich have swirled it into a complicated tangle of conspiracies and scandals, the idea at the center of Anonymous is simple enough (uh, Spoiler Alert):  William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall in the movie) was an ignorant actor and full-time lout, utterly incapable of writing the plays attributed to him, which were actually the work of Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans). 


There are apparently many good reasons for believing this theory to be balderdash.  Among them is the fact that 2 of Shakespeare’s late plays were not only first produced after DeVere had died, but were inspired by historical incidents that didn’t occur until he was, as Monty Python would say, bleeding demised.  (The film doesn’t help its believability by having DeVere write A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the age of 9, a feat even Mozart would have found impressive.)


But there’s nothing wrong with fictional emendations of history.  I don’t think any of us were aware of just what role super powers played in the Cuban Missile Crisis until this summer’s X Men:  First Class.  Quentin Tarantino killed off Hitler and ended World War II prematurely in Inglourious Basterds.  Mark Zuckerberg may not be the sad misfit portrayed in The Social Network.  Shakespeare himself, for that matter, certainly wasn’t above fiddling with facts in the historical plays.  And of course Shakespeare In Love invented Gwyneth Paltrow’s character as not only a love interest, but the inspiration for some of his best plays.


But if you’re going to screw around with history for the sake of a story, it had better be a good one.  And that Orloff and Emmerich don’t have.  In fact, at least for an American audience, their tale is a snobbish swipe at the lower classes:  how could the plays of Shakespeare have been written by anyone other than a nobleman?  Only one born to power and erudition would be able to create such poetry and tell such tales.  This isn’t just a false–maybe an offensive–premise, it’s an unentertaining one, unless perhaps you’re a member of the Trump family.. Who wants to see a movie about the triumph of superciliousness?


Not being content with a bad central idea, Anonymous lards the story with increasingly far-fetched plots and revelations, for many of which a working knowledge of 16th Century British history would be helpful.  These culminate in one involving Queen Elizabeth (played by Joely and Vanessa Redgrave at various ages) and DeVere that has to be seen to be believed.

Although the bones of Anonymous are brittle and creaky, no one ever said Roland Emmerich didn’t know how to make a movie.  All that technical expertise that went into The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 are piled on here, and the film’s production design, costumes and some bravura CG landscapes of old-time London are superb.  The actors, too, are committed.  Rhys Ifans, freed from his usual role as comedy relief, brings intelligence and suffering to the brilliant but hapless DeVere.  David Thewlis is a fine villain, and of course the Redgraves are impeccable.  It’s a bit unsettling to see Derek Jacobi, a magnificent actor of Shakespeare himself, endorse the DeVere theory by more or less playing himself as the presenter of the tale, but this is why actors should mostly avoid talking about their deeply-held beliefs.

Anonymous is a watchable display of craft, yet dramatically uninvolving and factually silly.  Somebody–but who?–once mentioned “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Apart from everything else, it turns out he was the world’s first film critic.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."