"What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."
In Anonymous, this very question posed by Juliet, may be answered.
Anonymous provides one theory on the debate surrounding the belief that William Shakespeare was not the author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets credited to him. Mark Twain even commented that in Shakespeare’s will there was “Not a play, not a poem, not an unfinished literary work, not a scrap of manuscript of any kind.”
The film is complex, centring on Edward De Vere’s, the Earl of Oxford’s (Rhys Ifans) initial use of the playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) as the front man for his work, which as a nobleman, he was not permitted to publish. Enter William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), a drunkard actor, who grasps the money-making opportunity by signing his name to the increasingly more popular plays. Alongside this is the other story of De Vere’s love affair with Elizabeth 1 (Vanessa Redgrave & Joely Richardson—as the younger Elizabeth), creating its own political dramas, with later shocking ramifications.
Anonymous moves alternately between the earlier lives of De Vere, Elizabeth 1 and her confidante the powerful William Cecil (David Thewlis) to their present day lives, filled with political manipulation, jealousy and betrayal. It’s almost a ‘thinking man’s’ soap opera.
It’s an unexpected project for Roland Emmerich, director of the blockbusters, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. Emmerich became fascinated with the Shakespeare authorship question after a conversation with screenwriter John Orloff. He believes the film will open up the subject to wider discussion.
The actor’s performances are compelling, the storyline well-crafted and the computerised visualisation of London beautifully evoked. You cannot help pondering the ideas presented in Anonymous long after the movie is over.
Shakespeare may have been talking about himself when he wrote,
“All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” But he could have also been talking about the film, Anonymous. Whoever Shakespeare was, I think he would have applauded.