Anonymous (2011) by Roland Emmerich
Shakespeare and I have a history (and yes, this is going to be a longer post, so go make some tea and get comfy). I was 13 when I had the splendid idea that I should read Shakespeare (in the German translation), and I chose Macbeth (and yes, it was a mistake). I read three pages and threw it into a corner where it lay for about three years (no, I did not allow anybody to pick it up, I wanted it to feel as shamed and embarrassed as I did when I didn’t understand it).
So, three years passed, and I watched Much Ado About Nothing, and I suddenly understood Shakespeare (or Branagh’s version of it). And I tried to read Macbeth again and gave up after two pages. I bought Much Ado and I understood that – so, the moral of this is probably that not every Shakespeare-play is for me. (Meanwhile I had to read Macbeth, and though I do understand it now – it is actually easier to understand in English than in its German translation – it is still no favorite of mine.)
Of course, I was thrilled when I read that there was to be a movie about the identity of the world’s greatest poet. I love most of his work, I have read different accounts on who he was and I am fascinated with his story. So, here’s the trailer:
I personally see Shakespeare as more of an institution than a man. Surely, there was a man named William Shakespeare working as an actor in London at the time but it is fairly doubtful that he was THE William Shakespeare who wrote those plays. Even if he did, this script would have gone through many hands afterwards, would have been revised by other writers during production. But, of course, the idea of some nobleman (or -woman?) having written these plays is more likely since he must have been able to write, known some Greek tragedies, a little bit of the world… Maybe there were even more than one person involved in writing the plays?
This movie by Roland Emerich picks up a common theory among academics: Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, Jamie Campbell Bower) was Shakespeare. The movie shows him as an unlucky fellow who had to marry a girl he did not love but then falls in love with Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson) and she with him – and then she gets pregnant.
This is also the story of the very influential Cecil family (lead by William Cecil played by David Thewlis) who behind the scenes protected the Queen’s secrets and kept her save from her enemies.
There is also the son of Oxford and Elizabeth – it is actually believed that Elizabeth had several children from a multitude of lovers – who is not even considered for the throne because he, of course, did not know he was the queen’s son. The story is told on several time lines. We see Oxford as a man in his forties, who is obsessed with writing plays and has them played out under a different name – it is more of a coincidence that it is Shakespeare – and not Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) – who claims to have written the plays. Then there is the younger Oxford who lives with the family of Cecil and marries their daughter. He wants to make a name for himself but William Cecil always interferes and spends a good part of his fortune.
The movie tells a lot of stories, it is about a man who has to write but is not supposed to write, a man who cannot write and is supposed to be the best playwrite of his time, a man who did write but was never the best of his profession, and a woman who was a queen and a lover but was never allowed to be a mother.
The cast is great and, I must say, I have seen so many Elizabeth I but Vanessa Redgrave… holy mess! She is fantastic. The idea to cast her daughter Joely Richardson as her younger self is brilliant, of course. The movie is great and far more interesting than I make it out, believe me. It has fighting, and flight, and things explode and burn (this is Roland Emmerich, after all). People die. I was once again captivated by the performance of Jamie Campbell Bower who I though great in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and who made for a really good young Oxford, arrogant, tortured, lost.
The introduction of the movie certainly is referential to Branagh’s Henry V, as it begins with Derek Jacobi as prologue. It is actually a little disconcerting seeing this film that has been made by Emmerich and Thor which has been done by Branagh. One might rather think that the two films had been done by the other… Anyways, it is – as always – a pleasure to see Shakespeare and it is certainly interesting to know and understand some of the debate that the poet himself inspired. Who was Shakespeare? I don’t know and it is not crucial for me to know but this movie showed an interesting theory, so I felt thoroughly entertained.