Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays? Could it have been an ordinary man like William, an itinerant actor whom some say was illiterate? Or was it a nobleman with Royal connections, like Sir Francis Bacon, poet/playwright Christopher Marlow, William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, or, as this story postulates, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Over the years, controversy about who the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon really was has intrigued literati, including Charles Dickens, Henry James, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, even Helen Keller.
“There is no evidence that Shakespeare actually wrote anything,” maintains screenwriter John Orloff. “In 400 years, there’s been nothing discovered that was actually written by William Shakespeare.”
German director Roland Emmerich explores Orloff’s outrageous conspiracy theory, focusing on Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) who was so well connected in court that he may have been young Queen Elizabeth’s lover, fathering her illegitimate child. Because of various political and social constraints imposed by his domineering Puritan guardian/father-in-law, William Cecil (David Thewlis), advisor to the Queen, de Vere pays a cheeky, narcissistic actor (Rafe Spall), to pretend he’s authored the provocative manuscripts which acerbically reflect the nefarious intrigue and blatant manipulations to maintain Tudor power within the English Court.
Best known for apocalyptic sagas (“Independence Day,” “2012”) Emmerich offers up lots of intriguing eye-candy in this opulent 16th century costume drama, set in London, as he clumsily – and confusingly – transitions back-and-forth in time with Joely Richardson as young Queen Elizabeth and her real-life mother, Vanessa Redgrave, playing the frustrated, aged Queen, who discovers to her horror from Cecil’s sinister son Robert (Edward Hogg) that one of her lovers might actually have been her grown son.
Two noted Shakespearan actors lend credence: Derek Jacobi delivers the prologue and epilogue, while Mark Rylance performs several excerpts on the Globe stage, including “Richard III.”
Problem is: Edward de Vere died in 1604, before “Macbeth,” “King Lear” and “The Tempest” were first produced.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Anonymous” is a speculative 7, a far-fetched, alternative-history curiosity, continuing the mystery.