Summation: Revisionist history of Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare
Rating: 4 out of 5
If you are one that prefers one’s historical facts and characters to be a facsimile of reality, do not switch on your DVD player. How is this for some revisionist history: Shakespeare is a an illiterate inarticulate actor who battles to thank the actors and audience at the closure of a play and a young queen Elizabeth who has a number of sizzling affairs the product of which is an illegitimate son, Edward, who is adopted by a nobleman.
If these actions are too implausible to accept, read no further. They can only be classified as fanciful, preposterous and absurd and yet because they are so highly improbable that I did not relate or compare this version with the historical version Elizabeth and Shakespeare but instead I treated it as complete fiction.
Under normal circumstances I would be mortified and rightly concerned by the level of distortion and fancifulness that it would have detracted from the movie. Instead I was entranced. The whole production is exquisitely filmed with an inordinate attention to the minutiae which provided the vitality and realism to this excellent production: the rotten teeth of the aging queen, the planks on the muddy sewerage laden streets, the dirty ruffles around the men’s necks and the dank stinking jails to name a few.
At the commencement Derek Jacobi sets the scene of why there is doubt about the identity of Shakespeare. It is this fact that in spite of writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets not one is extant, not be a single page. In fact his whole life is shrouded in mystery with very little being known of his life. This movie sets out to prove why nothing remains of all these manuscripts.
This fact which is never raised in this movie is that he was a Catholic and as such he was an outcast. In the cess-pit that was politics at the time, Shakespeare was forced to live the life of an itinerant in case he was implicated in some anti-Protestant revolt. It is not inconceivable that he was peripherally involved in assisting the Catholic cause especially when the Pope declared Elizabeth a heretic.
There was another reason for William maintaining a low profile. All writings were subject to various conspiratorial interpretations as they were readily construed as being seditious especially amongst the Puritans of which Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth’s principle advisor, was one.
Consider how implausible the movie is. The young Elizabeth has an affair which produces an illegitimate son, Edward de Vere who is adopted by the Earl of Oxford. Due to killing an intruder, Sir William Cecil strikes a deal with him: marry my daughter so that she is married to a noble and we will cover up the killing.
However Edward is a gifted playwright who cannot resist the urge to write. Being a noble, it is beneath his class’s dignity to write plays so he rescues Ben Jonson, a rising star, from imprisonment to produce his plays.
Not due to ingratitude, Benjamin produces them under the authorship of Anonymous hence the movies’ title. When a member of the audience challenges the caste who actually wrote the play, William Shakespeare steps forward and accept the credit much to Ben Jonson’s & Edward’s annoyance.
But the die is cast. William Shakespeare goes on to produce all of Edward’s plays under his own name.
Ultimately Edward, who is unaware that Elizabeth is in reality his real mother, is involved in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth while being blissfully unaware that he is in fact he is the rightful heir to the throne.
How ironic? Fortunately Elizabeth becomes aware of this bizarre situation and reprieves Edward. On Elizabeth’s death, King James IV of Scotland is crowned King James 1st of England.
Overall this movie is an enthralling journey into the cesspit of Elizabethian life and politics. It should also be congratulated for challenging the accepted narrative of this era.
It is an extremely well-produced movie as good as anything that Hollywood has produced in this genre.
The only criticism that I have of an otherwise excellent production is the continual retrospect scenes. First Elizabeth is shown in her dotage with an equally superannuated Edward whereas in the following scene it is a young Elizabeth still full of the joys of life being charmed by a youth Edward.
The scenes of a passionate love affairs between the two is pure fiction as in real life apart from Robert Dudley, Elizabeth is not known to have been close to any other men.
If one adores movies of this period, this movie is compulsory viewing. The rating of 4 instead of 5 merely reflects my annoyance at the jumps of 50 years between scenes.
Overall if this movie has a problem or two, they pale in comparison to its strengths