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Anonymous

The film is an entertaining mess, and that's not even parsing its historical veracity.

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"That which we call a rose": Rhys Ifhans, as "Shakespeare"
  • "That which we call a rose": Rhys Ifhans, as "Shakespeare"

Director Roland Emmerich is known for his big, noisy CGI-heavy spectacles (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day). Yet his latest film, Anonymous, promises to be an actor-friendly thriller about Shakespeare, his playwriting contemporaries, and various British peers and royals. 

Anonymous' conceit is that the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifhans), who has a complicated personal and professional life, secretly wrote plays, thinly disguised as political editorials and satires. Thus, the earl used an illiterate actor named Will Shakespeare to pose as the author.

The film is an entertaining mess, and that's not even parsing its historical veracity. It begins and ends in modern-day Times Square, and the first two reels of the film are confusing flashbacks and digressions. But things improve once the key personae dramatis are sorted out -- the scheming court insider Cecil (David Thewlis), his mewling son (Edward Hogg), young Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) and later, the aged QE2 (Vanessa Redgrave). Then, it's a preposterous but palatable story that bounds from boards to boudoirs. Anonymous offers all the fancy speak and elaborate costumes of a high-brow drama, but unspools with the froth of swords-and-sonnets soap opera.

No space aliens, alas, but there is an explosion. Though, I hasten to add, it is appropriate to the period. Starts Fri., Nov. 4.

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