Monday, October 31, 2011

Anonymous: Shakespeare and the Royal Conspiracy

  A brilliant premise for a film, no doubt...Was Shakespeare (one of the most prolific thinkers of all human history) a fraud? It has long been thought amongst Shakespearean scholars that only a man of considerable education could have concocted the iambic pentameter masterpieces of the Elizabethan age. To be well educated would assume great means and access to travel, ideas, cultures and influences outside the reach of common people of 16th Century London. A man perhaps then of noble birth may in fact have been the author of these time-transcendent works.
Without giving too much away regarding the film itself, the basic premise is self-evident. The actual William Shakespeare is proposed to have been a somewhat popular actor who seizes upon an opportunity to lend his name to a fabulously well written and well received new play by an anonymous author. This author, in turn, knows the only hope of having his works performed, and thus shifting the climate of cultural intolerance and political persuasion present at the time, is to pay an class-acceptable party to pretend to be the author - a duty which comes with fame, fortune and lasting acclaim. So who was the "real" Shakespeare? The film centers around this hypothesized author within a gloriously dark and drab London and a conversely lush yet weary Noble court. What a strange Queen Elizabeth this film constructs...a vision of her perhaps we have not seen recently. An aging Vanessa Redgrave plays a withered and often confused Elizabeth at the end of her days creating an atmosphere of fragility ripe for the reinventing while juxtaposed against the buoyant youthful rebellions of her people and her stage.

While I really only desire to have positive things to say about this film, alas, the plot get a little dodgy. To suspend disbelief long enough to accept what the film proposes as even remotely true is an adventure in the first place...but to go where this film leads, is head shakingly embarrassing. At the risk of giving away a vital plot point revealed at the top of act 3, Elizabeth becomes suddenly far more involved in the Shakespeare conspiracy then most educated viewers would begin to fathom, let along find acceptable. No doubt, Elizabeth was a rebel of her time, that’s one of the many reasons we continue to find her so very fascinating; but this film is constructed on an odd series of assumptions that lead to a very dark conclusion. Perhaps in the time of Shakespeare and Elizabeth's London where refuse was poured from windows into the streets, prostitutes lingered in doorways, and political and theological beheadings were the solution to tides of envy, such a plot twist would be commonplace and not so difficult to put aside; however, in these modern times and with our modern sensibilities, the proposal becomes preposterous, trashy, and begs numerous more unanswerable questions.

All in all, Anonymous carries a velvety complexion, robust with lyrical dialog, and spun with a gloomy aesthetic. Reds, blues and gold colors are rich and vibrant while all other hues are muted and grayed creating an atmosphere befitting the time and the subject. The acting is of course marvelous as was the majority of the script. Several outstanding scenes between the male leads erupt into tears of honest affection between the characters, breaking the tense environment of scorn, betrayal, distance, abandonment created by a spirit crushing call to station, title, and duty.