‘Anonymous’ is Arduous! – Anonymous (Movie Review)

You often hear Hollywood stories of writers, producers, directors, studio heads, and agents all getting involved in a promising movie only to throw every element know to man into it, and ending up with a spoiled cellulose version of Frankenstein.  This is the only explanation for Anonymous that I can find when I arrived in the theater ready for a heavy period piece after suffering through the trailers on TV for the past week, but I had no idea the abyss into which I was heading.

Anonymous had no idea what it wanted to be when it came of age in front of audiences in a theater.  It had the look and feel of Shakespeare in Love, enough intrigue and conspiracy for Jason Bourne, enough characters to pass as Altman film, and enough multi-layered flashbacks and flash forwards for Inception to sue for copyright violation.

Anonymous opens with an actor sweeping on stage at the last minute in modern day New York City.  As he completes the prologue, the stage play transitions to film with Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), struggling playwright, fleeing English soldiers while clutching stacks of manuscripts in his arms.  The soldiers are intent on getting either him or the manuscripts.  However, he hides in a theater long enough to prompt the soldiers to torch the venue. He stashes the manuscripts and emerges to battle the soldiers.  This lasts about ten seconds before he surrenders.

Next we find young Ben tied to a chair for interrogation at the hands of some unknown authority figure.  The men knock Johnson around to find the location of the manuscripts.  It is here that we start our first flashback to his chance encounter with the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans).  After agreeing to stage his play, Ben gets cold feet about attaching his name to the plays, which opens the door for an illiterate actor named William Shakespeare to take the credit, much to the dismay of the Earl and Johnson.

If that weren’t enough, we now need to endure a flashback of the Earl back to his younger years, then another flashback even further.  Throw in the flashbacks a murder, an atypical shotgun wedding, incest, illegitimate children, Queen Elizabeth at various ages, various theater people, and strict, evil Puritans, well, you can get lost or just quit caring what is happening and hope to enjoy the ending!

This movie had too many characters for my taste, an unclear protagonist, shifting focus from struggling playwrights and theater purists, a form of name-dropping by bring the young, old, and somewhere in between Queen Elizabeth (Venessa Redgrave/Joely Richardson), and political manipulators.

In the end, again, the filmmakers went over the top with a rushed crescendo with empty emotion.  Only then did I remember the real premise of the movie: that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to him.  To me the only thing anonymous in this movie was the plot.



9 Responses to “‘Anonymous’ is Arduous! – Anonymous (Movie Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Now I remember this film. Looked interesting, but i think I will stay away and save my Benjamin’s!

  2. Gregg

    I still want to check this out. While it’s safe to say William Shakespeare really didn’t write a word (he couldn’t even sign his own name in real life), the film picks out someone else as the purportedly true playwright. In actuality, it was Sir Francis Bacon. He was knighted, he travelled, he had money. In short, the guy was very cultured, unlike the real William Shakespeare. In addition, Bacon had the nickname ‘Lord Verulam’ which literally translated from Latin is “Spear Shaker.” The bottom line is there was a real William Shakespeare involved in theater, but he never wrote all those famous plays and scripts. It was Sir Francis Bacon who did the writing. Why the film went off on a different path remains to be seen.

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    How is it safe to say all this? Were you there?

  4. Brian White

    Watch your tongue, Aaron. Gregg is an Immortal. He’s been around forever. Why do you think he is always tapping his feet.

  5. Gregg

    I’m privy to information. Actually this material is out there, it just requires a little connecting. There’s a lot of stuff in history that never happened like the school textbooks claim. For instance, the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. There was no riding horseback down the street yelling “One if by land! Two if by sea!” Revere went through much more subtle efforts to alert the Colonists and one of those options (I believe it was ‘sea’) wasn’t really an entry option for the British for where the Colonists were.

    Other falsehoods are Columbus landing in America (never happened at all) and Jim Bowie fighting to the bitter end at the Alamo. He surrendered and was hung. Wanna hear me talk about how Osiris Dionysus, deity of the ancient Sumerians, has been recycled a dozen times in our world’s religions? That’s a whole other can of worms. Next up, alchemy is real!

  6. Aaron Neuwirth

    Only a Sith speaks in absolutes.

  7. Brian White

    I want to know more. Bad boy. Naughty words.

  8. Jiminy Critic

    Ken, as much as it pains me, I agree with you on this one. I might have even drifted off once or twice during this. (Is that anything new, though?)

  9. Gregg

    Execute Order Sixty-six!