Saturday, November 5, 2011

To be or not to be ... Anonymous

Did that Bard fellow, William Shakespeare, really write all those plays and poems?
The new film, Anonymous, attempts to answer that question definitively.
Another question: are we the audience able to follow the intricate political thriller?
We shall attempt to answer that question definitively.
Suppose that the reportedly nearly illiterate bard actually took credit for the works of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford. Why would Shakespeare do it? Why would De Vere permit it? What else is at play at the time of upheaval in Queen Elizabeth’s England circa 1550 - 1603?
If you know the answers to even some of those questions, you should be able to navigate this new film easily. If not, you – like me – will probably suffer from confusion as the fast-talking (with those English accents!) cast weaves its spell.
Okay, it sounds like I didn’t like it. Not so. I just got confused on occasion.
It didn’t help my confusion that the film jumped back and forth in time, forcing me to ID not one, but two, faces for every name.
Here’s the good news: It’s not only an interesting premise, but a pretty convincing one, at least in this context. The film does satisfactorily explain the whys. De Vere, the mature version played by Rhys Ifans (an absolute chameleon – do you remember him from Notting Hill?) – is mesmerizing as the talented royal who was driven to write despite the taboo against him stooping to such a thing. Enter Will Shakespeare, an aspiring actor who in fact could read but not write. De Vere wants his plays produced (at the Rose, later called the Globe, Theater). To do so, he must find someone to submit them; he chooses Ben Johnson, another writer, with the stipulation that he will not reveal the true author. Wait. Where does Shakespeare come in? Sort of accidentally. Once he has taken credit for one of the plays on stage, he has to stick with it, and so does De Vere.
But, that is not the whole story. The big picture includes the struggle taking place over the throne of the aging queen. (Remember that whole Mary, Queen of Scots thing?)
Joely Richardson and Jamie Campbell Bower as the young Queen
and Earl.
The cast is quite good, including Vanessa Redgrave (looking ancient) and her real life daughter Joely Richardson, who portray the “virgin” queen as older and younger versions. Richardson’s young queen falls in love with De Vere and may have had his child. Okay, I’m going to stop staggering through English history, known and unknown, now because I’m out of my element (and I actually studied this era rather enthusiastically at one time!).
What can’t be beat: the atmosphere of the streets, the palace, the Globe (I have been to the replicated Globe and this brings it to life). The actors, the costumes. If this had smell-a-vision, we’d probably have to leave the theater.
Vanessa Redgrave and Rhys Ifans in later years.
One final prop to Rhys Ifans. He was fantastic. And tell me he didn’t look like Ryan Gosling’s clone! (I’m not the only one who thought so.)
There’s a lot of drama here, and a few laughs along the way. It immerses us in a time four centuries ago with fully realized characters. I do think this will appeal to a somewhat narrow audience. Pity, it’s a fascinating look at history, with not a little speculation thrown in.
So, did it answer the question: Did that Bard fellow write all those plays?
You’ll have to see the movie and decide for yourself. And that’s the fun of it.
I’m giving this three reels (out of four).

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