Wednesday, April 17, 2024

New Shakespeare Film: The Really Bad News, and A Little Good News


Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” opens this week. It should be called “Preposterous.” The film makes a case that William Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. Instead, the Earl of Oxford, aka Edward DeVere, is put forth as the playwright. Shakespeare is merely a stooge, who fronts for someone else. Yes, it convoluted. It makes no sense. And in “Anonymous,” DeVere is also the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth I. This is the very bad news.

Shakespeare’s scholarly defenders are on the rampage about the movie, weighing in everywhere, especially the New York Times. I will give you two excellent links that discuss this mess. One was from yesterday’s Times Magazine, which rightly lays out a time line that makes the whole thing impossible. The other is from the paper itself.¬†

Honestly, “Anonymous” would seem like a total waste of time except for the actors. Rhys Ifans plays DeVere, and it’s hist first real stab at playing an adult, a person of substance, and nobility. He’s quite wonderful. So are Vanessa Redgrave and her real life actress daughter Joely Richardson playing Elizabeth as an older and younger ruler, respectively. I was especially impressed with Richardson, who has for too laboted in the shadows of her famous family. She’s just great.

And there’s more: Edward Hogg is a real find as Robert Cecil, scowling and scheming around the court. Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall, is a fun young Shakespeare. Most especially, there are two major cameos by the Tony Award winning Mark Rylance that make up for all the movie’s crazy historical deficiencies.

But holy moley: what a mess is “Anonymous.” It’s absolutely useless as a historic artifact, taking liberties in every scene. Then there’s the script, which is not possible to follow without GPS. When Ifans, the Redgraves, or Rylance turn up you want to ask them for directions. Listen, kids, Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK. And Roland Emmerich, a nice man, should stick to disaster movies. Even the aliens from “Independence Day,” his best film, knew “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth” were not written in one week.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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