Anonymous as bad history
Friday, October 28, 2011 at 02:20PM
Ed Pettit in ShakesConpiracies, Shakespeare

This review will contain spoilers, so if you still want to see the movie and don’t want to know what happens, then read this after you’ve it.  

Anonymous is a terrible historical drama, meaning it is so wrongheaded about the historical time period it wishes to portray that the film can not be taken seriously.  Like Emmerich’s other costume drama, The Patriot, we get such a perverse reading of historical events that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or be angry.  And Emmerich has been strangely silent on The Patriot, as well.  There have been many stories in the press about how Anonymousis such a departure from Emmerich’s usual sci-fi/action/disaster fare, yet there is very little talk about how Emmerich has already made a historical drama.  But just as The Patriot whitewashes the American Revolution, especially regarding slavery (and demonizes the British military), Anonymous seems to take the opposite approach by muddying the waters, by taking known historical facts and situations and deliberately twisting them to convince the audience that there is an actual authorship controversy.  

Besides the major change to history made by Anonymous (that Shakespeare wrote his works), the movie is riddled with the kind of historical errors that made me question whether or not the screenwriter, John Orloff, had ever read or researched anything on the Elizabethan age.  Some of the inaccuracies: 

But maybe you think this is all nitpicking.  What matters getting dates and details wrong if you get the main narrative story correct?  Normally it wouldn’t matter.  But when the director has stated that one purpose of the movie is to correct history, to educate people about what really happened, then Anonymous’ historical inaccuracies are more than just ironic, they undermine the film’s position.  We get the kind of message that history matters, unless I want to make a point, then I’ll rearrange the places, people and events to suit my own purpose.  This is precisely the problem of all the Shakespeare conspiracists: not accepting the historical record and changing it to fit their own agenda. 

Next post: why Anonymous is a terrible film about Shakespearean literature 

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