Cinema Review: Anonymous

You can't get in. You're bard.

DIR: Roland Emmerich • WRI: John Orloff • PRO: Larry Franco, Roland Emmerich, Robert Leger, John Orloff, Marc Weigert • ED: Peter Adam • DOP: Anna Foerster • DES: Sebastian Krawinkel • CAST: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Sebastian Armesto

There are some directors whose work will always go before them. Whether it’s their visual effects, their style of direction, their output, it takes a certain courage to go completely in the opposite direction and defy what’s expected from them. Roland Emmerich is a director known for massive set-pieces with huge special effects and very little subtlety. Some may even describe him as a European Michael Bay. To take on a script that focuses on the final days of the Tudor dynasty and the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is absolutely baffling – and yet here we are.

The story takes place, as mentioned, in Elizabethan England and follows the intrigue and political machinations surrounding the succession of Elizabeth I. However, parallel to this, is the story of the birth of modern theatre. The whole film is something of a love letter to ‘Shakespeare’s’ work and the film does a good job of making it seem relevant – both in terms of the story and for the audience watching. The cast is filled with notable Shakesperean actors such as Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Derek Jacobi and more and it’s them that give this film the weight it needs to be somewhat credible. The very idea of Roland Emmerich attempting something like this without these actors backing him up is laughable – and it’s them that deserve the most credit for this film.

Throughout the film, you can see that Emmerich is desperately restraining himself and trying to fit his visual style into what could have been something completely different in the hands of a director. Indeed, the film itself is a bit confused. In one respect, it’s trying to be a historical film – carefully laying out its viewpoints and backing them up with fact and so forth. In another, it’s trying to be a swashbuckler/period thriller – all court intrigue and muskets. In another breath still, it’s a melodrama. Unfortunately, it becomes muddled and can’t settle down to one particular train of thought. The screenplay is magnificent and Rhys Ifans does a spectacular job in his role, likewise Natasha Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave both display Elizabeth’s mercurial nature without giving in to the lure of playing her as a tempermental shrew.

If this screenplay was given to a different director who had more experience working with this kind of material, there’s a good chance this film would be more than what it is. The varying elements of the script could have done with more refinement by the director. In other words, he should have picked a style and focused on that, rather than trying to fit every aspect of what the script entailed. It’s a missed opportunity in that Roland Emmerich is so woefully unskilled at making films with this amount of depth and substance. He might be trying to for a new direction and that’s fine. This is a decent first attempt – however, this script feels like it could have been something spectacular in the hands of a more gifted director than he.

Brian Lloyd

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Anonymous released on 28th October 2011

Anonymous – Official Website

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