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Anonymous = Entertainment
8/10 First thing to point out. When going to watch this movie I had no intention whatsoever to judge it on its historical accuracy. I simply did not and do not care. If you want a documentary on Elizabethan times then clearly you shouldn't be watching this particular film.5 years ago
If, on the other hand, you want a perfectly entertaining and interesting way to spend a couple of hours then you should go and see it. I thought the story was engaging and original (if, like myself, you're not a pretentious academic). The acting was, on the whole, very accomplished. In particular, I thought Rhys Ifans gave a brilliant performance as De Vere and was perfect for the role. I did find Rafe Spall pretty annoying as Shakespeare, but perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt as this was probably the aim of the character.
With regards to the historical rewrite then surely if people are interested in what 'Anonymous' suggests they'll try to find out more about the subject in order to make their own mind up. Nothing wrong with that. And those taking Hollywood's version of history at face value are pretty much beyond help anyway.
Certainly one of the most memorable movies i've seen (for the right reasons) this year.
Possibly the Greatest Literary Deception of All Time Gets Suberp Cinematic Treatment--Superior to "Shakespear In Love"
10/10 About 300 years after the publication of the first collected works of Shakespeare, the so-called First Folio (1623), a schoolmaster named J. Thomas Looney (pronounced "loanee") facilitated his students in readings of the Shakespeare plays, particularly "the Merchant of Venice". Over the years while watching the plays, hearing their rhetoric, and absorbing this remarkable voice whose Elizabethan presence is still revered and studied today, Looney became convinced the man from Stratford who is attributed to having written the plays (the Orthodox View), was not the true author. He came to believe the name "William Shakespeare" which appeared on two published poems, the later quartos and the First Folio was in reality a pseudonym for someone else, possibly a nobleman. Previously, those who questioned the Orthodox View, sometimes called Anti-Stratfordians, had proposed others of the Elizebethan Age, such as Sir Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe, but Looney was convinced the true author was someone never before put forth since Shakespearian scholarship began in the 18th century. Shakespeare has and still does remain shrouded in mystery.5 years ago
Because Shakespeare biographical detail has been sketchy at best, Looney developed a profile similar to those used by detectives to paint a picture of his candidate, based on elements in the plays. He determined the writer was a nobleman, a Falconer, possibly sympathetic to the Lancastrian side of the Wars of the Roses, and someone who loved Italy and Italian culture. And, most important of all, that he was a poet who possibly had written poems and/or plays under his own name before going under the name of William Shakespeare. After finding a number of primary sources at the British Library, he came up with his findings. Looney proposed a somewhat forgotten nobleman named Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as being the true identity of the poet/playwright William Shakespeare in a book called simply "Shakespeare Identified".
"Anonymous" is a film based on Looney's original notion that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, penned the plays which would become the greatest literary canon of the English language. The events surrounding the plays, their performances, Oxford's conscious willingness to stay behind the scenes, and the attribution of the plays to the man from Stratford, a businessman who had little or no experience in theatre, are all dramatized in a period film which takes you back to the world of the Elizabethan Stage. One of the best aspects of "Anonymous" is how it relates the plays to political rhetoric of the period. In recent years, Shakespearian scholars have proposed that many figures of the Elizabethan Court were satirized in the plays, such as William Cecil and his son Robert Cecil. The links between the plays and contemporary politics are brought to the fore much more directly than in "Shakespeare in Love".
Character actor Rhys Ifans offers an Oscar-caliber performance as the man who some believe was the real Shakespeare. Ifans finds that delicate balance between the remarkable artist and the troubled nobleman who could not reconcile the two worlds of his life. If Shakespeare was in fact a nobleman who went under a pseudonym, many of the events portrayed in "Anonymous" are plausible. Unlike today, playwrights and poets lived on the periphery of society, and a nobleman of the rank of Oxford writing plays containing charged political rhetoric would have been scandalous, hence the Shakespeare-Oxford theory.
The hero of the movie is actually his colleague Ben Johnson, the Elizabethan playwright who has always dwelt under the shadow of Shakespeare, especially in modern times. Johnson would have been the greatest playwright of his age if Shakespeare had not been writing. In this story, he becomes the guardian of the Shakespeare plays, and supposedly the man who saves the canon for posterity. Johnson in fact wrote the preface to the First Folio of 1623. If there had been a cover-up of Shakespeare's true identity, Johnson would have known.
While the film bases many of its embellishments on facts known about Edward de Vere, the film does take a few rather implausible historical licenses, not unlike Amadeus which appeared about 25 years ago. Edward de Vere may have flirted with Queen Elizabeth when he was younger, but whether they bore a child does seem quite fantastic. Later in the film, an extraordinary truth about Oxford's own heritage is revealed. However, films have to tell a story, and some licenses are made in order the story remain interesting and compelling. Shakespeare in many of his plays bent history to fulfill his dramatic goals and theatrical visions.
Many Shakespeare enthusiasts not only dismiss the Oxfordian argument but do not approve of the subject altogether. Some Stratfordians' view is that there is no "authorship question" and that any attempt to discredit the man from Stratford does a disservice to Shakespare. I think "Anonymous" is not so much about changing minds but about bringing the question out into the open. Regardless on which side of the fence you may be, there are a lot of questions concerning the life of Shakespeare. Answers to mundane questions, such as primary sources concerning his composing, are strangely absent. No one seems to have mentioned Stratford being any kind of a poet, playwright or actor in Stratford. However, as shown in the film, primary source evidence survives which speaks of Edward de Vere as an adolescent putting on a short play for the young Queen Elizabeth.
So the film brings us back to the fundamental question: did Oxford write the Shakespeare Canon or was it the man from Stratford? Primary source evidence is sparse, and documents which could have shed light on this problem may have perished in the Great Fire of London in 1666. In short, we may never know. But Oxford's star is on the rise, and in years to come, this may be the first film to acknowledge there is indeed a question. Whether it has been answered is up to each viewer.
One of the best films of the year
10/10 "I, once gone, to all the world must die." William Shakespeare, Sonnet #815 years ago
Actor George Dillon has said, "The purpose of drama is to challenge people and to make people see things slightly differently." The challenge is laid down in stunning fashion by German director Roland Emmerich in his latest work, Anonymous, one of the best films of the year. Focusing on two of the most important events of the Elizabethan age: the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and the succession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I, the film supports the premise that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a prominent aristocrat and court insider, was the real author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, plays and poems of romance, tragic political intrigue, and comedy that contain such a compelling beauty and searing intensity that, after 400 years, still reach directly into our hearts and remain there forever.
Described as a "political thriller", Anonymous creates an atmosphere of foreboding and intrigue that, like many films of the genre, begins with a jumble of names, images, and flashbacks that challenge us to sort it all out. We are not certain of anything, but Emmerich invites us, in the words of Diane Ackerman "to groom our curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sunstruck hills." Steering us through the maze of Tudor history, the film makes credible the startling events of the time, providing an authentic recreation of London in the 16th century with its crowded theaters and raucous audience, cluttered streets, and court royalty decked out in fine jewels.
Though some may point out historical inaccuracies in the film, Emmerich, citing Shakespeare in Love as an example, says that the film contains an "emotional truth" rather than a literal one because "the drama is the primary concern." He need not have had concern on that aspect. Through Emmerich's direction, the writing of John Orloff, the cinematography of Anna Foerster, and the superlative performance of an all British cast including Oscar-worthy performances by Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as Oxford, Anonymous succeeds both as an authentic drama and a plausible explanation for many of the problems surrounding the authorship question. While the film may lack a certain depth of characterization, it more than makes up for it with style, spectacle, and an involving story.
To some, the film may be skating on narrative thin ice, Emmerich, however, told an interviewer that "if we provoke, let's provoke all the way," and provoke he does. According to Anonymous, de Vere, in addition to being Shakespeare, was also the illegitimate son of the Queen and, in 1573, the father of a son with Elizabeth, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel). Emmerich handles the subject of incest with great taste, with neither the "Virgin Queen" nor Oxford knowing the truth until close to the end of their lives. After a brief prologue by actor Sir Derek Jacobi, the film begins with the arrest of playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armento) by faceless men in knight's armor in the middle of a theatrical performance.
The author of the play is a well-known writer who, though he is soon released, is taken to the Tower and accused of sedition and slandering the State by the mere act of authoring a play, the mark of a totalitarian society reflecting a growing disdain for the arts. The film then flashes back five years, then forty years, as we become acquainted with the young Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower), taught by highly educated tutors with access to a vast library in the home of William Cecil (David Thewlis), where he was brought up as a ward of the court after his father's death. We also witness his marriage to a teenage Anne Cecil (Amy Kwolek), daughter of William, a marriage that never produced any lasting satisfaction for either party.
As we return to present time, Oxford is forced to hide his identity because of the biting satire of his plays that lampoon some of the more prominent members of the court, and also as a result of a political arrangement that becomes clearer later in the film. His initial choice to front for him is the same Ben Jonson but Jonson refuses, passing the mantle to Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an actor for the Lord Chamberlain's Men who seizes the opportunity. In a superbly comic performance, Spall portrays Will as an illiterate money-grubber who can barely speak coherently but is willing to sell his name to Oxford at a premium cost. The heart of the plot, however, focuses on the attempt to seize power from Cecil's son Robert, an episode that is known to history as The Essex Rebellion of 1601.
This insurrection, led by Robert Devereaux, the Second Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) results in his beheading and the imprisonment of Southampton who is sent to the Tower awaiting certain death. Oxford's attempt to persuade Elizabeth to save their son results in a political deal that makes us privy to why Oxford was never able to reveal his authorship of the Shakespeare canon. While some critics may proclaim the movie a moment of singularity that indicates the end of the world as we know it (even before 2012), Anonymous may have the opposite effect, opening the subject to a wider audience who may be able to view Shakespeare and his times from a totally new perspective.
In Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," Jubal said we're prisoners of our early indoctrinations, "for it is hard, very nearly impossible, to shake off one's earliest training." If my intuition is correct, the prison gates will soon be swinging wide open, and the shaking will begin in earnest. As Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
Anonymous -- Hacking history
8/10 These days, the term "Anonymous" conjures up visions of unknown activists trying to influence history from the wings. They write things, and that writing changes society. In his film of the same name, director Roland Emmerich seems to be suggesting that this idea is not exactly new, and that the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare were essentially motivated by the same desire. He takes the age-old mystery of "Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays?" and turns it into a political thriller.5 years ago
If it's difficult for you to imagine a historical costume drama done by the director of "Universal Soldier," "Stargate," "Independence Day," "Godzilla," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "2012," you are not alone. :-) I suspected that the screenplay (by John Orloff) came first, and that Emmerich discovered it and became enamored of it, and a quick trip to the IMDb verifies that this intuition was correct. It also informs me that Emmerich, taking advantage of the money he made on the previous films, paid for this whole movie out of his own pocket, so that he could have full control of the film, without interference from any studio. It shows.
It's not a bad movie at all. And this is something I never thought I'd find myself saying about a Roland Emmerich movie. The cast is simply to die for: Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth the elder; her daughter Joely Richardson as Elizabeth the younger; Rafe Spall as Shakespeare (a talentless clod of an actor); Sebastian Arnesto as Ben Johnson (a talented playwright, but not even in the same galaxy of greatness as the author of Shakespeare's plays); David Thewlis as William Cecil; Edward Hogg as Robert Cecil; Derek Jacobi doing the prologue; Jaime Campbell Bower (from "Camelot") as the younger Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; and Rhys Ifans as the older Edward de Vere, and the real author of Shakespeare's work.
As presented, the plot is not at all a scholarly argument for the Earl of Oxford's authorship of these plays. It is instead a clever reimagining of historical events (some treated as loosely as Shakespeare himself treated actual history) to turn the answer to the mystery that scholars argue about into a taut political thriller. In Orloff's/Emmerich's vision, Edward de Vere wrote the plays and published them under someone else's name for no less a reason that to foment revolution, change the course of history, and determine the next king of England.
And damnit, that reimagining kinda worked for me. The sets and costumes are pitch perfect, the performances are good, and the potential is there for a good time to be had by all. Like anything related to Shakespeare, the more you know about him and his work, the better this film will be for you. There are so many asides and in-jokes that I cannot begin to go into them. Orloff really did his research. Except for the part about Edward de Vere having died before at least 10 of Shakespeare's plays were written, that is. But that's just a nitpick, and should not stand in the way of writing a good drama. Those kinds of historical nitpicks did not deter Shakespeare, and they don't deter Orloff and Emmerich. All of them understand that "The play's the thing," and that history doesn't mean diddleysquat compared to that.
Inventive, Compelling, Emmerich's Masterpiece
9/10 The Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is a talented playwright whose position forces him to publicly abandon his endeavors. He seeks to sign over his plays and sonnets to Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), but that's easier said than done. When William Shakespeare takes credit (Rafe Spall), that's the least of concerns as the words of Edward affect the political climate.5 years ago
Rhys Ifans is an unrecognizable powerhouse, and though the rest of the cast fairs well, he shines. As does director Roland Emmerich, who uses every trick at his disposal to make a highly sophisticated drama littered with elaborate costumes and set decoration to be admired.
The theatre experience is very well represented in Anonymous, with the narrator barely making the curtain. Believe it or not but this does actually happen and there are actors who specialize in. The workings of the theatre coincide with the events described and eventually merge. In the time of Edward, the Globe is shown with spectacular accuracy and the familiar faces of the troupe appear across plays.
The future of England is put at stake as the insight into Edward's inspiration is penned on a relationship with Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave and in younger form Joely Richardson). These secrets showcase the power of words to win over love and country.
Is it cheating to inject stolen verse into a screenplay? To some extent yes. We're talking about a movie that lifts words, then says they came from a thief. A bit of a paradox if anything. Similarly, it would be silly for J.J. Abrams to direct a movie that's filled with scenes from every Steven Spielberg film, yet that happened with Super 8.
If Anonymous has a fault, it would be in jerking around the audience. The movie starts with an inventive use of a framing device, and quite appropriately in a theatre. We go back and Ben Johnson is jailed, only for us to go back 5 years to see him getting jailed. Then we go back another 40 and when we next see Johnson he's being set free. So in which time is he released? Thankfully Anonymous is long enough to allow an audience to gain bearings.
Anonymous is Emmerich's masterpiece, a radical far from his usual environmental apocalypse works. There could be a stigma surrounding the subject, which will be viewed as blasphemy by many. I'd like to reassure you that most popular cinema is an act of fiction. Shakespeare isn't available to rebut, and most moviegoers are not concerned with historical accuracy so long as the story is compelling and filled with drama, which Anonymous delivers.