‘Anonymous’ Such Stuff as Bad Movies Are Made On

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Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 1.0/5.0
Rating: 1.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Roland Emmerich has been commonly mocked for his larger-than-life blockbusters that include “Godzilla,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “2012.” I would rather sit through a marathon of all three of those works back-to-back-to-back than suffer through “Anonymous” one more time. While those movies have undeniable flaws, they do so on a grand scale common with the words guilty pleasure. There’s absolutely nothing pleasurable about this self-serious and remarkably stupid drama.

Don’t get me wrong and assume that because I’m a writer and a former English major that I consider the subject matter of “Anonymous” to be hallowed ground. In fact, the opposite is true. There could have been a raucous, enjoyable period piece borne from the conspiracy theory that suggests that perhaps William Shakespeare didn’t write his famous works of art. I have no significant problem with the plot of “Anonymous” (although it is remarkably boneheaded and proven factually inaccurate by nearly anyone with a cursory knowledge of the time period or the people involved). It’s the execution that deserves scorn.

“Anonymous” opens with the great Derek Jacobi heading into a theater to give a performance. As we get glimpses of the scene to follow, the actor stands on a stage offering an introduction the piece. What if William Shakespeare was a thief, a man who put his name on plays for which he didn’t even write a single word? The stage performance transforms into film as we then see Ben Jonson (Sebastien Armesto) trying to hide a pile of manuscripts from a group of soldiers who burn down the Globe Theatre, grab Jonson, and torture the writer for information.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures

John Orloff’s deadly-dull screenplay then flashes back to reveal the origin of the manuscripts (which one correctly assumes are Shakespeare’s legendary works) and quickly suggests that they were written by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), an Elizabethan leader forced to keep his talents hidden by William Cecil (David Thewlis), a powerful man convinced that creativity is evil. In a flashback within a flashback, it is suggested that de Vere wrote and performed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at a very young age, inspiring Queen Elizabeth I (played in her youth as Joely Richardson and at an older age by Richardson’s real-life mother Vanessa Redgrave…yes, one of the only clever things about this production was its casting). Over the years, de Vere would live out elements of his notorious plays and the film suggests that the death of Polonius in “Hamlet” was actually inspired by a murder committed by de Vere and that the lead character in “Richard III” was based on Cecil’s puritanically dictatorial son Robert (Edward Hogg).

After seeing a politically-inspirational production, de Vere tries to convince Jonson to stage his plays. When the prideful writer refuses, one of Jonson’s peers, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes over and begins to receive city-wide acclaim and recognition while eventually blackmailing de Vere. De Vere uses his experience and a continuing struggle between the Tudors and Cecils as inspiration for his work, Shakespeare takes credit, and Jonson gets more and more jealous of the acclaim being given his completely untalented and annoying colleague. Meanwhile, Orloff’s script gets more and more soapy as forbidden love, murder, and even incest are thrown into this conspiracy theory just to try to make it more entertaining.

The attempt at entertainment fails. While “Anonymous” may sound interesting on paper, it is hard to fully convey how uninteresting the entire escapade actually comes off on film. The political drama about Elizabeth’s successor and her past romantic dalliances is so remarkably dull that most viewers won’t be able to track what actually happens in it. And it just serves as a distraction from the “Shakespeare or de Vere” arc, which is in itself shockingly boring.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures

The script is so dead on arrival that Emmerich directed all of his actors to do whatever they could to save it, which resulted in a film that is so over-the-top in its acting styles and yet so deadly self-serious at the same time that it begins to border parody. Redgrave seems to be having a bit of fun playing a possibly crazy old Queen (although even her character is woefully inconsistent…vacillating between borderline senility and total lucidity as helps move the story along) and Ifans is a reasonably engaging lead, but the rest of cast ranges from bad to downright awful. Perhaps knowing he was stuck in a ridiculous part, Armesto over-acts like he’s in a telenovela and Spall is shockingly annoying. No one else really registers at all.

Even the production design of “Anonymous” falls flat. It’s what I like to call a “dress-up piece” in that it never feels like anything more than actors and actresses playing dress-up. None of the sets feel lived in. None of the period recreation feels genuine. We never once believe that this is a real world occupied by people of the period.

All of this hints at the film’s biggest problem – that the story and its execution are so lackluster that you are stuck paying attention to the little things like the poor production design. It’s never enough fun not to notice its flaws. With its over-the-top performances and melodramatic reveals, “Anonymous” could have been a unique slice of period B-movie fun if it wasn’t so damn boring.

“Anonymous” stars Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Edward Hogg, Xavier Samuel, Sam Reid, and Joely Richardson. It was written by John Orloff and directed by Roland Emmerich. It is rated PG-13 and was released on October 28th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Anonymous's picture

While the timeline and facts

While the timeline and facts are often out of line with history, I found this movie to be quite entertaining. It was a bit hard for some viewers to follow — two idiots sitting behind me kept asking questions about what was going on — but I’d say it’s quite the treat if you appreciate that it’s heavily stylized. (Which you do, if you’ve seen the trailers and still wish to see the movie.)

I think your assertion that it’s boring is a simple bias on your end that you probably walked into the film with. Mentioning that you would be willing to sit through “Godzilla,” “2012,” or “The Day After Tomorrow” again kind of killed the review for me. Those movies are terribly boring and generic. At least this bit was original, inventive, and well made/performed.

ziggy one of the best's picture


Man is what so boring it put me to sleep

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