Anonymous
PG-13
Entertainment: +3
Acceptability: +2

Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Sebastian Armesto, Joely Richardson. Drama/period piece. Writer John Orloff. Directed by Roland Emmerich.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Fact and fiction intermingle in this account of who actually wrote the works credited to William Shakespeare. The story here is set in Elizabethan England, amid scandalous political intrigue and the ins and outs of the royal court. The story puts forth that the real writer was the Earl of Oxford, here played by Rhys Ifans and that Will Shakespeare was a buffoonish lout.

PREVIEW REVIEW: There’s always been the speculation that Shakespeare didn’t really write his works. And I myself always wondered how he had such insight on the inner dealings of the monarchy. But I really never cared who actually wrote the work. Somebody did and thank goodness, because, without question, his plays are the literary standard to which all other literature composition is measured.

With its gilded Renaissance glow, sizzling dialogue, opulent set and art design, a nonintrusive score that manages to add subtext, and its seductive performances (especially Vanessa Redgrave, who deserves Oscar attention), the film truly captivates. Besides the technical and artistic elements all coming together, reminding us of the true special effects (story, dialogue and performance), this English drama is also about something – the corruption of the soul through power and ego. There’s a depth to both script and execution, giving filmgoers a striking example of what this medium can deliver, even in a year when comic book superheroes dominated the Cineplex.

My only reservation has to do with the character assassination of William Shakespeare. One of the most powerful, and, of late, overused elements by cinematic storytellers is the gleeful outing of the true nature of a historic person. I’m always suspicious of the “true” story when a filmmaker retells history, giving those of us who sit in the dark a new perspective that has to do more with his artistic bombast than life’s reality. Too often film biographies offer an illusionary and provocative examination of their central characters, generally through a smarmy, cynical lens. Anonymous is no exception.

Here, Shakespeare is presented as emotionally vapid, a drunk and womanizer, vulgar and often cartoonish. He’s more a character in, well, a Shakespeare play than a three-dimensional real-life being. In the Bard’s plays, characters and plots are used as allegorical symbolism, usually giving us a philosophical profundity. But in Anonymous, most of the historical characters are stage play-like stereotypes (Ms. Redgrave’s Queen Elizabeth I being the exception).

As a serious biographical examination, Anonymous suffers from an incendiary treatment of history. Though serious biographical examination may not have been the intent of the filmmaker, nonetheless, he freely mixes facts with speculations and conjectures. Leaving the theater we can either take what we saw as fact, or be reminded that Hollywood is in the business of illusion, not reality.

As entertainment, Anonymous is one of the most involving films now in theatres. Maybe that also makes it one of the most dangerous. For though we are entertained by the cinema, it being the essence of all other art forms, the public often suffers from a movie’s reformation of history.

“Truth, what is truth.”

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Summary
Crude Language: A couple of crude sexual remarks.
Obscene Language: I caught no objectionable language.
Profanity: None
Violence: Some violence with the some off screen killings; we see dogs attacking a bear – this is done in an area for the amusement of those in the stands – it doesn’t become graphic; a beheading, though the editor cuts away before the executioner does.
Sexual Intercourse: Three sexual situations, though somewhat graphic in movement, there is only a flash of backside nudity.
Nudity: Brief backside nudity.
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: Lots of drinking.
Other: None
Running Time: 120 minutes
Intended Audience: Mature viewers.

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