Director Roland Emmerich should be an expert in disaster movies by now. For over 10 years, he’s been the prophet of doom behind such apocalyptic hits as “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and that crowning homage to the end of times, “2012.” Only now, he’s moved away from future visions of ruin and instead has just given us a ruinous vision. In his latest film, “Anonymous,” Emmerich forgoes the aliens and Armageddon for the glitz and glamour of Elizabethan England. It’s the hey day of bear-baiting, of buxom wenches and of Shakespeare’s greatest works. Or is it?
Here’s the part where the absurdity of this film’s premise must be addressed. Brace yourself. In “Anonymous,” the William Shakespeare we all know as the genius behind “To be or not to be,” “All the world’s a stage,” and “bite my thumb” never existed. Instead, William Shakespeare is reduced to Will (Rafe Spall) — a Joey Tribbiani type who revels in drunken merriment, gawks at ladies’ breasts and doesn’t even know how to write. He’s a minor character when compared to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) — the proposed true hand behind Shakespeare’s scribblings.
Theories positing de Vere as the true Shakespeare have been around since 1920 and perhaps the real Earl of Oxford could’ve been a real contender. He had an immaculate education, immense wealth and direct connections to the crown. Too bad the film disregards thoughtful historical conjecture in lieu of its own perverse agenda where factual inaccuracies are the least of its problems.
The premise is not only offensive and disrespectful to the notion that a common man such as Shakespeare could pull himself up through pen and pluck, it’s ridiculously bizarre. One major plot-line involves incest of the Oedipal sort, with Queen Elizabeth herself in the role of Jocasta. “Anonymous” is an English major’s nightmare and given the technical aspects, it’s also sure to become the butt of any filmgoer’s joke.
For a movie as obsessed with the elegance of words as “Anonymous” feigns to be, the dialogue could not be more stilted or idiotic. In response to the reveal of incest, one character remarks, “It’s like a Greek tragedy.” No, really? Not to be outdone in buffoonery, the acting is similarly subpar. As the young Earl of Oxford, actor Jamie Campbell Bower (“Sweeney Todd”) seems more invested in lifeless stares and removing his puffy trousers than in any type of acting. He just stands in rooms, bungling his way through a series of flashbacks so frequent, the only way to keep your head straight is to note the color of David Thewlis’s poorly placed beard. Is it brown? That means we’re back in time. Is it grey? Nobody cares.
Everything about “Anonymous,” from the outrageous plot to the inane acting, makes this Roland Emmerich’s finest disaster movie to date. Only, the disaster is the film itself. It’s so god awful in so many ways — from Queen Elizabeth stripping to one of Hamlet’s soliloquies to an outlandishly gay King James I (with lisp, flailing hand, et.al) — that “Anonymous” may be the most entertaining flick to be released all year.
Unlike in self-consciously bad films like “Piranha 3D,” everyone in “Anonymous” is committed to some, overarching level of profundity that begs to be mocked. In the words of Hamlet, it’s nothing more than a “foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” that would’ve been better off on the cutting room floor.