There will be lots working against a positive reception of ANOYMOUS. The first is the filmmaker, a name that’s been stricken from almost all promotional material leading up to the films late-fall wide release. Sure, Emmerich has made some of the most bombastic, most egregious films ever made, but who’s to say a shlock meister can’t change with a good script?
Then, er, there’s the script. The story of Shakespeare not being Shakespeare goes back to Elizabethan times, but this particular work takes it one step farther, complicating not only authorship but the general history of the British Royal family. For most interested in such affairs, their first instinct would be to be appalled. For those that don’t really care, well, they’re unlikely to go see the film in the first place.
With these two major strikes against the work, and I’m in no way diminishing them, ANONYMOUS is actually quite a fun little film. First of all, it’s told with quite a lovely visual style. We transition from a modern stage into a period film in quite an elegant, cinematic way, far surpassing the stage roots of this work. There’s loads of theatricality, of course, but the productions within the film are extremely well executed, with an appropriate amount of grime and grit making the events seem accurate.
As a whole, the performances are excellent – a particularly effective casting choice was making mother/daughter pair of Vanessa Redgrave/Joely Richards play Elizabeth in various ages. Rhys Ifans also makes a fine return from the other dreck he’s been in of late (I’m looking at you, worst film in the world ever). A solid cast is met with great sets, expansive production design, and a pace that’s perfectly balanced with the story.
Yes, in the end it’s all a bit silly narratively, but forgetting actual history and treating it as some grand thought experiment, playing with blocks in the sandbox of history using pieces of history to reconstruct a different timeline, and it’s actually quite a fun little film.
ANONYMOUS is certain to have its many detractors, but it’s by no means an embarrassment for its cast or production crews – heck, it’s a lot better than Best Picture winner SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE in creating a compelling and interesting film. Emmerich may still be on some level a shlock meister, but on this different canvas his skills have been used for good rather than evil, and that seems, in this case, to be a good thing.