Anonymous, penned as a film about the “real” William Shakespeare, is a political drama laced with soap opera-style relational tensions. The film is set in Elizabethan-era England during the time of the Essex rebellion. Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, realizes after watching a play put on by Ben Jonson exactly how powerful words can be. He approaches Ben and offers him a play for him to stage. But the authorship must remain anonymous.
Ben stages the play (Henry VIII) and at the conclusion the audience demands to see and hear from the playwright. Ben anxiously looks up to the Earl’s box for some kind of direction. In the meantime the young, egocentric actor Will Shakespeare (who is like a grown up version of Dopey) runs out on the stage to take the playwright’s bow. Director Roland Emmerich continues to weave Shakespearean plays in the film as the political drama of who will succeed Elizabeth I unfolds. In the midst of this weaving, Emmerich sprinkles in a number of flashbacks that help us (or at times confuse us) in understanding the characters more. For example, in these flashbacks we learn that the relationship between Edward and Elizabeth goes beyond Earl and Queen.
Edward, though an Earl, seems to be powerless against the power and influence that William Cecil (and later his son Robert) holds over the Queen. Edward would find his power and his voice in his pen. Writing, though frowned upon as the “devil’s work” since his adolescence, is Edward’s way of releasing emotions, ponderings, and thoughts. Indeed, the old saying that the “pen is mightier than the sword” is Edward’s philosophy. He begins to shape public opinion act by act.
Words are a mystery. They hold such great power, though they are so simply used. Words tear down and they build up, as the Bible says (Ephesians 4:29). Words can put others in a place of oppression, and words can inspire revolution and transformation. Through the art form of the play, Edward is given a prophetic voice in which to communicate with the people of England. “Our political system needs to change,” it seems he is saying. “Our political system is not just.” African-American ministers through the centuries have turned the sermon into an art form—a prophetic art form. Film, music, and literature have all taken words and turned them into prophetic art form that speaks to generations.
Anonymous offers incredible performances. Edward is expertly played by Rhys Ifans. Queen Elizabeth is played by Vanessa Redgrave, a performance which is perfect in every way. She is elegant, smart, witting, and slightly mad all at the same time. Young Elizabeth is played by Redgrave’s daughter Joely Richardson, which was a brilliant move by the filmmakers.
Overall, Anonymous is a film everyone should see at least once. It is a film that holds your attention and keeps you guessing what will happen next in this drama. While it has that independent artistry feel to it that may prevent some people from viewing this film, it’s worth the time.