The age old debate as to whether William Shakespeare ever wrote a word, let alone 37 plays, 154 sonnets and a number of poems, still rages on and many are of the opinion that, while Shakespeare could read, he was totally unable to write so much as a word.
Many are also of the opinion that it was his contemporary, Francis Bacon, who wrote the works that William Shakespeare passed off as his own. In fact, over 20,000 works have been written suggesting that Shakespeare was not the brilliant playwright that the world has come to believe. Not a manuscript has ever been found that was actually written by Shakespeare himself, adding to the suspicion that he was never the writer.
By best guess, the first Shakespearian play performed was Henry II, part I in 1592, with the last being Henry VIII in 1612/13.
Anonymous looks at another possibility, that it was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, through Benjamin Johnson, a playwright himself, who penned the plays, the poems and the sonnets. Johnson himself became the first poet Laureate.
This was at a time when plays were regarded as sinful by many and this film portrays de Vere as unhinged and irresponsible for devoting his life to words rather than taking care of the family estates and his family who were ashamed and embarrassed by his addiction to writing.
The de Vere family were nobles for several centuries, from 1114 until the death of the last Earl in 1703, when the title of Earl of Oxford became dormant and not used again.
Beginning with a narration by Derek Jacobi, who some may remember as Brother Cadfael on the British TV series, and a Shakespearian actor himself, we come to know the treachery, cunning and conniving of the English Court in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. This was the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (and we all know how that ended).
The Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans who appeared in Notting Hill and Hannibal Rising, was superb. The wonderful Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I was brilliant. Interestingly, Joely Richardson, who played the young Queen Elizabeth I is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson and the sister of Natasha Richardson who died on a ski holiday in Canada in 2009.
The entire cast was brilliant, and the movie one of the longest cast lists I’ve seen in a while.
The scenery, costumes and sets will win Oscars and you’ll be surprised to learn that, while I’m a tad long in the tooth, I wasn’t in London in the late 1500s, but it sure looked real to me. I am always amazed at how we, the movie watchers, can be taken quite away from the now and transported to another time and place by the magic that is movie making.
This is a great movie if for nothing else but the imagery. It does jump around a bit and it takes a while to get used to the various actors playing different times in their character’s lives, but “the play’s the thing” and “alls well that ends well.”
Best line: “It’s a one trick pony, he’ll never be able to do it again.” (Said after the first play was performed.)
Four reels—enjoy this for the history, the scenes, the acting and a glimpse into the Royal Court of centuries past.
Susan Steen is a local non-profit executive and movie buff.