Anonymous (2011)

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Peter Thewlis, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, Derek Jacobi, Edward Hogg, Xavier Samuel

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford in Anonymous

Some mealy-mouthed critics have complained that this film is crap because its take on British history is, um, fanciful, to say the least. A complete load of nonsense, to say a little more.

Er, hello? There are several reasons one could consider Anonymous to be crap, were one to be uncharitable (clunky, uneven script, CGI London that looks like a model village, a few performances as wooden as the Globe itself) but historical accuracy is not one of them. Face it, 'historical' films are always full of bollocks – Braveheart, La Reine Margot, Elizabeth (I and II) and even my beloved Amadeus play fast and loose with the facts – but this doesn't mean they aren't highly entertaining. (Or, in the case of the latter, one of the best films ever made.)

Hell, as Anonymous points out, Shakespeare himself made up history when it suited him – Richard III was no more a hunchback than William Wallace dressed up in woad.

Jamie Campbell Bower as the young Earl of Oxford in Anonymous

In this re-imagined version of Ye Olde Elizabethan England, however, Shakespeare didn't actually write his plays, the Earl of Oxford did. Yes, as a conspiracy theory it's been fairly decisively debunked, but what do you expect from a director who decided that to keep warm one should burn books rather than the wooden shelves they sit on?

Cue Rhys Ifans with kohl-rimmed eyes and ink-stained fingers, passing his quill-penned labours of love to the exuberantly buffoon-like jobbing actor Will (marvellously portrayed by Rafe Spall), to the despair of fellow scribbler Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto). Throw in mother-daughter team Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the younger and older incarnations of Gloriana and half the cast of Harry Potter now gainfully re-employed and you have so much scenery chewing it's amazing the sets stand up at all.

Rafe Spall as William Shakespear in Anonymous

Oh, and don't forget Sir Derek Jacobi, shoe-horned in to intone the prologue and epilogue, cuz if he sez Shakespeare was a fraud, it must be true. (Although just yesterday I could have sworn I heard him declaim that his name was Iggle Piggle. Whatever…)

To hell with it. Suspend your disbelief from the highest scaffold and just revel in this riotous romp – its lavish costumes, delightfully detailed settings, good looking young men sporting wigs and pointy beards, 'shock' plot twists and wonderful recreations of the Bard's plays that really bring home why everyone thought he was so great in the first place – whoever he was. To believe or not to believe? That's not the question: the play's the thing.

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