Claim ‘Anonymous’ as a fall must-see

Lindsy Neer


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Who really wrote the body of work attributed to William Shakespeare? The question that has been debated for centuries is the topic of “Anonymous,” a dramatic political thriller wrapped in conspiracy theory.

The film, starring many well-known Brits, expands on the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the incredible talent behind Shakespeare’s 38 plays and 154 sonnets.

“Anonymous” might not see mass commercial success, but if Shakespeare conspiracy theories are your thing or you’re a history buff, you just might leave the theater believing the nobleman gave us works like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet.”

I had never thought too hard on who actually wrote Shakespeare’s body of work but after seeing this film, I will forever argue with anyone who doesn’t believe de Vere wrote it. (Although the facts are obviously exaggerated, I like to pretend anything is possible.)

The movie might be about the works of William Shakespeare, but Shakespeare as a character plays a relatively small role. The life of de Vere is the main focus (the scenes switch from young to middle-age de Vere), with struggling playwright Benjamin Jonson playing an important piece in publishing the works credited to Shakespeare.

Rhys Ifans (“Harry Potter,” “Little Nicky”) plays the late de Vere, who first impressed Queen Elizabeth with his writing when he was a child playwright.

Many years after their first encounter, teenage de Vere (Jamie Campbell Bower, “Sweeney Todd,” “Harry Potter”), falls in love with young Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson, “Nip Tuck”). They have an illegitimate child, who later becomes Earl of Southampton.

Oh, it also turns out de Vere is actually Elizabeth’s first illegitimate child — something de Vere doesn’t find out until long after his and Elizabeth’s child is born. I hope the writers of “Anonymous” took incredible liberties with that part, as the reference to Oedipus is just generally unsettling.

All the characters in the movie are real people (according to Wikipedia, at least). While much of the content is only semi-factually correct, it tells the great story of how Shakespeare’s works affected Elizabethan England and, eventually, the rest of the world.

The film’s scenes change decades quite frequently, and there are so many characters that you only really get enough time to scratch their surfaces. However, that doesn’t stop you from feeling the pain and despair de Vere goes through — specifically, his inner torture in not being recognized as the talented playwright he was.

The movie also stars David Thewlis (“Harry Potter”) as William Cecil; Xavier Samuel (“Eclipse”) as Earl of Southampton; Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave (“Julia,” “Atonement”) as the late Queen Elizabeth; and Rafe Spall (“Shaun of the Dead”) as William Shakespeare.

“Anonymous” presents another possible angle of the Bard of Avon we learned about in school — a well-off nobleman who worked a lifetime to bring his words to the world, just to have another man become famous for his creative talent.


Lindsy Neer at [email protected].