On the plus side, Anonymous offers enough of a dynamic, vividly realized world of late Elizabethan England to make my inner geek backflip. Shot in Babelsberg Studios in Germany, the movie presents a pretty pungent portrait of muddy streets, stylised court life, and most excitingly, the immediacy of the Globe Theatre where theatre-goers are close enough to be spattered with action. The scenes of rich and poor alike moved by the power of words is mesmerising and fantastic, and the good actors – Ifans, Richardson, Redgrave, Thewlis, Spall – are worth every cent of their pay cheque (they fortunately make up for the weaker, usually younger, ones.)
But it’s the minus side that you’ll probably remember – the reduction of contemporary literary giants Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe to simpering side-acts, the historical revisionism of Good Queen Bess’ multiple pregancies (s’true!), and of course most central to the entire film, the conceit that Shakespeare was in fact a wenching, illiterate wide-boy chancer, whilst the aristocratic Earl of Oxford was in fact the Bard responsible for the plays and poems and sonnets.
Having studied English Literature and Drama for my Batchelor’s Degree, and being something of a history buff for the late Elizabethan era, I don’t abide that kind of “literary birtherism” generally – and in this case it has the added insult of class-ism. I understand there’s little/no actual proof that the working class actor William Shakespeare wrote the jewels in the crown of English literature (indeed cultural achievement) but that doesn’t mean that Edward de Vere (poor little rich boy!) did either. Besides, who’s actually going to take seriously the historical interpretations of the same bloke who made 10000 B.C?