BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Anonymous’


Roland Emmerich – either by his own hand or by Hollywood’s – has been typecast as a multi-million dollar blockbuster director who specialises in depicting post apocalyptic scenarios involving aliens, mutated monster or catastrophic natural disasters. With his latest film, the Elizabethan drama Anonymous (2011), Emmerich seems to have departed from his well-established oeuvre, yet his directorial ineptitude in regards to characterisation and storytelling still loom large.

With Anonymous, Emmerich attempts to re-write the history books and presents a scenario where in William Shakespeare – widely renowned as the greatest English playwright – was in fact a fraud, passing off another’s work – including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Richard III – as his own. With a predominantly British cast featuring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis and Rafe Spall, you’d think that Emmerich may have been on to a winner – which he may well have been, until this poorly-acted, severely underwhelming period conspiracy thriller collapses under its own sense of self-importance.

Bookended by two cringe-worthy modern day sequences starring Derek Jacobi (seemingly recalling his self-parody in a past episode of hit US comedy Frasier), the thespian contingent of Anonymous somehow transcend Emmerich’s caricatures, producing a score of performances that range from the marginally weak (Ifans’ Earl of Oxford, Redgrave’s ageing Queen Elizabeth) to the truly bizarre (Sebastian Armesto’s 17th century ‘Deepthroat’ Ben Jonson).

Those willing to look beyond Emmerich’s factual pretences may well be expecting an enjoyable period romp, yet even comparisons to Richard Curtis’ hit television series Blackadder would be giving Anonymous credit that it arguably doesn’t deserve. It’s difficult to raise more than an apathetic shrug to both the film’s attempts at drama and comedy, with Spall’s Shakespeare too idiotic even to be placed in the same company as Blackadder’s resident simpleton Baldrick.

Whilst some may suggest that Emmerich’s latest is a knowingly light-hearted pop at pompous British elitism (with all subtlety of his American Revolution epic The Patriot [2000]), its lack of realism makes it as valid a historical re-evaluation as John Madden’s drab Shakespeare in Love (1998). If you’re hungry for some reasoned ‘Anti-Stradtfordian’ discourse, you’d be best advised to look elsewhere.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.  

Daniel Green