At its heart, Anonymous is no more historically accurate than Shakespeare in Love, a film with which it shares several characters but little else — either plot or tone. In Love, the Bard was shown as a capable playwright finally inspired by a woman to greatness; Queen Bess showed up at the end to sanctify him. In Anonymous, he’s portrayed as an illiterate (even murderous) gold-digger, a front for the true author of great plays, Edward de Vere, Duke of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, pictured, who’s never been better), a paramour of QE1 (Vanessa Redgrave — dotty, sad, brilliantly unfettered and honest).
This is a far cry from the brainless actioners director Roland Emmerich usually churns out, but historical fudging aside, it’s endlessly entertaining and dramatic, with twists worthy of Shakespeare himself. We “learn” who killed gay playwright Kit Marlowe, and which royals were buggering (or wanted to) others. For Bard fans, it’s a hoot; for movie fans, a gorgeous, compelling romp, well acted and sure to be an Oscar favorite. That’s something else it has in common with Shakespeare in Love.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Four stars. Now playing at AMC NorthPark and Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.