Guilty pleasure: Anonymous
With his Shakespeare conspiracy thriller, Roland Emmerich plays to the cheap seats.
It’s not common to find a rip-roaring thriller on a subject as arcane as literary authorship, but with Anonymous, Shakespeare denialists finally get the conspiracy movie their selective historicizing deserves. Not inclined to delve into manuscripts or other documentary evidence, Roland Emmerich directs with a brio more suited to an action film, with all of the historical acumen he brought to his prehistoric adventure 10,000 BC (in which a man negotiated a deal with a saber-toothed tiger).
As scholars have shown, the rumors that Shakespeare was a fraud didn’t begin until nearly two centuries after his death and were predicated largely on conjecture and a classist notion that a man of modest origins couldn’t have written the greatest plays in the English language. There’s some irony, then, in the way Emmerich pitches his thriller to the cheap seats: The conspiracy suggesting the Earl of Oxford was the man behind the Bard involves incest, torture, generation-spanning love and a parallel cover-up involving Elizabeth’s bastard children. But while the film is dubious as history, Rhys Ifans (as Oxford) somehow makes it moving, projecting a wounded grandeur that lends the film’s trashy trappings an unexpected air of dignity. (Available on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray Tue 7.)