Anonymous is a Roland Emmerich film that contends that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays credited to him and tells a story of intrigue and politics set in the court of Queen Elizabeth. It features a needless framing sequence and has a tendency to jump back and forth in time period to explain the narrative. It is, however, very good. I know what I expect from Emmerich, and there is precious little of it on display: no huge spectacle, no explosions and no scenes of disaster or tragedy. What there is, in their stead, is a surprisingly good treatise on the nature of entertainment as propaganda which touches on the populist nature of much of Shakespeare’s work and a study of office politics and manipulation. It’s the last thing I expected from Emmerich, and the early framing sequence had me believing I would not be watching a film of subtlety and nuance. I was wrong.
The acting is largely very good, and there aren’t many famous faces on show. The cast is largely British so there are very few bad accents on display (oddly enough the only one I noticed was on James I). The stars are actors rather than stars and the acting is very good, if perhaps a little photogenic. To my mind the main poor actor (and the only ropey bit of plotting, although it may be indicative of his supposed nativity and simplicity) is Shakespeare. Oddly enough, even though the film is ostensibly about him and the impact he will have, he is far from the main character.
The geo politics and their ties to religion are mentioned in the film, but not clumsily, and provide backdrop to some of the dramatic moments of the film. The various strands of protestantism are also shown and form important dramatic threads. The factions within court and the various schemers and plotters also get their moment in the film. It is a quite complicated film yet has a fairly clear through line and narrative flow. The jumping back and forth between the two extremes of Elizabeth’s reign are mainly necessary and mostly easy to distinguish by the ages and appearance of the main cast. Part of me wonders if it would be possible to make the film more linear, but I rather suspect it would be less satisfying dramatically.
The only real problem is the beginning and end of the film. I do wonder if it could have been accomplished purely through narrative or a voice over. I can see the reasons for putting them in but it does seem unnecessary and a distraction from the period detail of the rest of the film. Still, it is churlish to complain; it is a very good film, even if you don’t like expensive blockbusters and disaster movies.