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February 7, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray – Anonymous (2011)

by NIR SHALEV

There’s not much to say here that hasn’t already been said in my original review of Roland Emmerich’s best film, Anonymous. The film is based on one of the most popular conspiracy theories that sees William Shakespeare as a fraud and a scapegoat. Emmerich utilizes his expert eye for grand special effects to beautifully render whole cities, from more than five centuries ago, on the screen instead of having them destroyed for the fun of it.

The idea is that Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), who was born into the aristocracy and later became the 17th Earl of Oxford, wasn’t allowed to write sonnets, poetry, plays, or anything really. So he did so in secrecy and handed his writings, mostly the plays, to one Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto). Ben produced the plays on stage and should anyone ask who the author was, he was allowed to use his name. However, when the occasion actually arrives, an actor named William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) jumped at the opportunity and claimed that the play was his own before Ben could speak up. Edward was furious but had no choice but to pay Shakespeare to continue the farce until the very end.

The film also, periodically skips back in time to when Edward was in his teens (played by Jaime Campbell Bower) and early twenties and focuses heavily on his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson; as an adult by Vanessa Redgrave). There are conspiracies and then there’s this particular conspiracy. My favorite subplot, which grows more important as the film progresses, is that Edward thought up certain characters for his plays based on some of the people around him.

Anonymous is an enthralling, intriguing, beautifully shot and well acted piece of pulp fiction that amazes when one realizes that it came from the same director of such terrible films as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 10,000 B.C. (2008). Whether or not there’s a true story here needs to be entirely disregarded because if the filmmakers don’t care, why should we? It’s a good film, it’s very entertaining, and it’s proof that Emmerich can make good films.

It reminds me of Woody Allen’s mockumentary Zelig (1983), in which Zelig, a fictitious man who can shape-shift into anyone that stands near him, was once in Germany during WWII and was superimposed to appear to be standing next to Hitler during one of his speeches. When a friend waves to him, he waves back and distracts Hitler, causing him to lose his focus on his speech and the moment is ruined for all of Germany. If that could happen in real life, then maybe Shakespeare was a fraud. If not, there’s still a good story to be told.

The DVD contains a commentary with director Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff and a feature titled Who Is the Real William Shakespeare? The Blu-ray edition contains the same and also adds a PS3 theme, wallpapers, and two more featurettes titled More Than Special Effects and Speak the Speech.

Other new releases this week: Project Nim, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas


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