I was recently talking to a friend about my childhood, and relating what it was like seeing my first play and then choir concert. I thought it was amazing that people, who I knew, would go up on a stage and suddenly turn into other people entirely. (What’s more, I thought it was just kind of magical that they would get up in front of everyone and suddenly they would know all of these beautiful lines and songs.) I found out, as we all do, that there is a lot of work that goes into putting together a great show. First you have to have a script – some strong material with a nice conflict. It can be real or fictitious or any combination of the two, and as long as people can connect with the characters, you feel like you can change the world.
ANONYMOUS was released in 2011 to little fanfare here in the midwest (I live in Kansas). I remember seeing a trailer and thinking “What an interesting concept. I wonder if it will be any good.” I don’t remember it being in theaters for long, and that’s a shame. As someone who was an actor for many years and a playwright for a few, I’ve always enjoyed good dialogue and Shakespeare is some of the best. So, what if…? What if Shakespeare was a fraud? What if all of the writings for which he is remembered were actually written by someone else… someone who, fate would have it, would have his life’s work stripped from him?
ANONYMOUS poses this question at the front of the film and, even though we know where we’re headed, the ride is everything great about Shakespeare’s timeless writings. Enter Edward the Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans of the upcoming THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN). He has had an affair with Queen Elizabeth (played young by Joely Richardson, and later by Vanessa Redgrave) after so impressing her at a young age with his skills as wordsmith. But, like a true Shakespearean tragedy, this bliss is short-lived. Despite the Queen’s favor, Edward quickly falls under the purview of William Cecil (David Thewlis in another amazing performance), the Queen’s religious adviser and right hand. Cecil forces Edward to marry his daughter and stop writing (publicly).
Edward continues to bed the Queen (and others) and he can never stop writing. He says the voices in his head would drive him mad if he couldn’t put pen to paper… so, as the Queen grows older (and her reign nears its end), the aristocracy is chomping at the bit to claim their right to the throne. Edward realizes, through the theatre, that he might have a chance to sway this decision with some well-timed political drama. He jumps at the opportunity, as it could solidify his station and allow him the freedoms taken away by Cecil and enlists Ben Johnson, a young playwright of the time, to take his writings and put them on stage. Sadly, a jealous (and arrogant) Will Shakespeare catches onto the secret, blackmails Edward, and claims credit for the plays.
What takes ANONYMOUS to the next level is the little touches: phenomenal, believable performances from the entire cast in even the smallest details; exquisitely written dialogue; phenomenal costume work; and breath-taking production design. The movie has a grit, a reality, that sets it apart from many other period pieces. The story structure is put together in such a way as to weave a tapestry within which you will find yourself lost, hoping somehow that history will be changed and Edward allowed to keep his works. While the movie comes in just a tad long at 129 minutes, it moves briskly and feels like a much shorter story (primarily thanks to Ifans and relative newcomer Rafe Spall – who plays Will Shakespeare to perfection). This story isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy period films, history or historical fiction, or just want to see a great movie you should definitely check this out.
Video: (1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) This is one of the most beautifully presented Blu-rays to grace my television. The picture is gritty but incredibly sharp.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The sound presented a great track with a great mix for a dialogue heavy feature. Very nice presentation.
Commentary with Director Roland Emmerich and Writer John Orloff (02:09:57) This is a decent commentary but a bit hard to understand with lots of these two talking over each other. There is some truly interesting information, but this one is only for real fans of the film.
Deleted Scenes (02:54) 3 scenes that were cut from the film add some additional context. I actually liked them (short as the are), but I can see why they were cut.
Extended Scenes (03:29) 2 scenes featured in the film are presented here in longer cuts. Again, both are interesting but unnecessary.
More than Special Effects (13:08) One of the beautiful pieces of the film is just how seamlessly the special effects were integrated with the movie. I wouldn’t have known that so much was done using green screen – it really adds to the reality of the world.
Who is the Real William Shakespeare (10:39) The theory presented in the film is based on actual questions that have arisen since the early 18th century. This is an incredibly interesting presentation of the historical basis for the film.
Speak the Speech… (16:14) For authenticity, Emmerich sought actors who could present the language in the way that it is/was actually spoken. This feature breaks down the casting process and the dialogue.
The disc also contains previews of other Sony titles and BD-Live.