Imagine the director of the movies Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 made a movie about Shakespeare. Yeah, that was exactly what Anonymous was like. Anonymous is a terrible film as a drama, as a historical film and as a Shakespearean film. Emmerich hasn't made a disaster movie, but rather a disastrous one.
I went into the screening at the Philadelphia Film Festival (opens widely, or not so widely, on October 28) with the preconception that I would probably enjoy the film because I love historical dramas, as well as this particular time period. Hey, I might be pissed about the whole “Shakespeare was a fraud” thing, but I want to see a political conspiracy movie set in the Elizabethan Age. Oh how wrong I was. Turns out I did not want to see a historical conspiracy thriller if it was made by Roland Emmerich.
Over the next few days, I’ll post about how Anonymous fails in three big ways. Today, why Anonymous is a terrible drama.
A film with a script this poorly written would be difficult to redeem (the silly, needlessly convoluted plot with spoilers). The dialogue was ham-handed, the performances over the top. Way over. Even Vanessa Redgraveas Queen Elizabeth plays her part as if a graduate of the Nicholas Cage School of Acting. Oddly enough, Rhys Ifans as the older Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower gets to play the hammy, yet sexy version of the younger Oxford), gives an understated performance, very interior, although he stillcan’t redeem a script that has him givePassionate (with a capital P) dialogue about “Words” (yes, Words with a capital W) and “voices in my head” that he must write or else go mad. Mad, I tell you!
I wasn’t the only one in the audience to see the silliness in this movie. Several times the audience laughed at the ridiculous situations and dialogue. In one scene, Oxford’s wife angrily confronts the Earl after discovering he has been acting upon his most secret desires: “Edward, you’ve been writing again?!” The audience erupted into laughter. Yes, that's the big shameful vice of Oxford. He's a (make the scrunched up face of distaste) writer. Emmerich beats the audience over the head with this theme throughout the movie. And it's this kind of hyperbole that makes the proceedings so silly. Emmerichalso comes off as a real novice filmmaker when he begins the film with amateurish expository introductions when characters at an Elizabethan theatre have this kind of exchange: “Oh, look, Thomas Dekker, isn’t that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford?” “Why yes, Christopher Marlowe, and that’s the Earl of Southampton with him?” Really? Why didn't you just freeze frame and superimpose each character's name as a subtitle?
And oh, the sneering villains. Had Snidely Whiplash showed up, no one would have blinked. Edward Hogg, as the hunchbacked Robert Cecil, seems to be channelling Christopher Guest’s evil, six-fingered Count Rugen from The Princess Bride. Christopher Marlowe is played as a villain, perpetually envious and sneering at every line uttered by the actors in the playhouse. Several times, I honestly thought maybe Emmerich was having us on, that he understood this material was silly and was covertly making a film that undermined the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories. Then I remembered his other films and realized Emmerich can only paint in broad, overly simplistic strokes.
Anonymous is Godzilla set in the 16th Century (actually, I'd love to see that literally with an actual monster destroying an Elizabethan city). We even get explosions in the first ten minutes of the film when a theatre is deliberately burned down, setting off fireworks stowed under the stage. Later, we get canons firing into a crowd, as well as lots of musketry fire. The bodies pile up. Normally, I’d enjoy that kind of mayhem in a film. And it could be refreshing in an historical film. But not in a movie that takes itself so seriously. The only light moments in this film are scenes showing Shakespeare as a goofy bumpkin. Otherwise, we get characters imploring, growling, weeping, shouting, sneering, bellowing, pleading. The only thing Anonymous was missing was Nic Cage. That would at least have made it enjoyable.
Part 3 Anonymous as a terrible Shakespearean film.