Review: Anonymous

A peril of fatherhood is the possibility that your offspring will end up stuck in the same ruts and traps as yourself. Timothy Spall is a very fine actor but has spent much of his career stuck playing grotesques.

Now his son Rafe seems to be stuck playing dim losers. That may be understandable when you are playing the unsuitable boyfriend in One Day but, when you have to play Shakespeare as an illiterate, it must seem like the world is typecast against you.

Shakespeare is almost a bit part in this film about the Bard, which is pushing the line that a humble Stratfordian couldn't possibly have written such beautiful works and that it must have been someone posh, almost royalty.

A 400-year-old academic debate over authorship, set in a period of history done to death over the last few years — and by the creator of 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 BC – is an heroically unpromising prospect. Anonymous, however, is rather fine.

Emmerich's Elizabethan England is a dark, gloomy, rain-swept place with little of the gleaming perfection of your average period drama.

It's also a touch more spectacular and grandiose than we're accustomed to. Maybe they've found some Philippine CGI sweat shop to do their effects – but the film certainly looks like a bit more money has been spent on it.

John Orloff's script posits Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) as the true author. He shapes the material into a conspiracy plot with De Vere's attempts to get his work performed anonymously merging with a battle for royal succession and the ear of the aging Queen Elisabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), who is taking her lead from the drab puritan William Cecil (David Thewlis). I didn't buy into its theory which is basically the one used about Jack the Ripper really being an eminent Victorian (only the English could be snooty about a serial killer).

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But I did buy into the drama, which is very moving.

All the cast are tremendous but Ifans is just immense – dashing, noble and tragic. I know it is kind of ridiculous to be surprised that an actor can act but it still baffles me that the man who once traded half-cut banter with Johnny Vegas on 18 Stone Of Idiot could be so utterly convincing as the greatest playwright in the English language.


Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Sebastian Armesto, Edward Hogg and Rafe Spall

Length: 130 mins