Will is Earl


28 October 2011| No Comments on Anonymous     by Sean Chavel


Your mind overloads and then strays during one of those movies that feels like 200-odd scenes were crammed in. Anonymous suggests the conspiracy theory that the works of William Shakespeare were penned by someone other and that his name was a fabrication. It opens with Derek Jacobi in contemporary New York delivering a theatrical monologue that tells of the intrigue of the Elizabethan era. In the flashback, it first concerns playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), a rather dull fellow, and the branded sedition judged upon his measly plays before he is asked upon to become a ghost writer. Then we meet Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), a genius at agitprop, to offer Johnson the chance to put his name on his work. This role is stolen by preening actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), brassy but limited in vocabulary. During the meantime, we meet one member of the court after another whose names evade us or confuse us of their objectives. Except for Queen Elizabeth, played by Vanessa Redgrave as old and Joely Richardson as young, who registers as an intriguing historical imprint. Ultimately, the movie is speculation and therefore hollow and silly despite its heavy pomposity.

I’d say that every twenty minutes “Anonymous” contains a series of passages that merit attention or captivates us. The best montage is during the first stage presentations of “Romeo & Juliet,” “Henry V,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet” where actors of the time performed with hungering ferocity and the law threatened arrest for their sedition. The derisive work that provoked the proletariat to fight back the monarchy was “Richard III,” the film’s climax that led to riots. Earl of Oxford sits in the back balcony during performances, often taking pleasure with the audience reaction to his work. Ifans (“Human Nature,” “Greenberg”) is bold in his acting choices but the film would have benefitted by letting him stir philosophically and ruminate in his own intelligence. The movie is exhausted by tension-filled dialogue encounters.

Many a detail is grated into the over-busy screenplay by John Orloff. The director is the unlikely Roland Emmerich who is known for disaster movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012.” He re-creates the gloominess of the era that is captured to an eyesore fault. To what end the film wants to achieve with his audience is dubious. OK, all you need to know is that William Shakespeare might have been Earl. Sure…

129 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Best Shakespeare Adaptations: “Macbeth” (1971); “Romeo & Juliet” (1968); “Hamlet” (1990); “Henry V” (1989).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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