x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Anonymous

The period thriller Anonymous is historically implausible, but surprisingly compelling.

Anonymous
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg
***

Previously best known for effects-driven action blockbusters including Independence Day and Godzilla, the German-born director Emmerich has been widely criticised by academics and historians for this straight-faced dramatisation of a fringe conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare's works were actually written by the 16th-century English nobleman Edward de Vere.

Listing all the errors and fabrications in Anonymous would require a much longer review, but that would also miss the point. Emmerich protests too much about the veracity of his flimsy source material, because this story works just fine as a lavish and tangled period thriller, swept along by the director's flair for grand spectacle and sumptuous, painterly tableaux.

Ifans gives a terrific star turn as the suave playboy de Vere while Spall's Bard is a vain, illiterate, drunken oaf – and possible killer. Casting both Redgrave and her daughter Richardson as Queen Elizabeth at different ages is also a smart touch.

About midway through Anonymous, even Emmerich seems to lose faith in his preposterous conspiracy plot, sidelining Shakespeare to plunge de Vere into a life-or-death political struggle over the future of the English monarchy. Again, this is pure invention, but it makes for a surprisingly compelling historical action romp.