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‘Anonymous’ falls flat with boring, confusing plot


2 out of 5 Pitchforks

Columbia Pictures

Released: Oct. 28


There are few historical figures that had as much impact on the world as William Shakespeare. His plays have shaped modern storytelling and he is largely considered the greatest playwright to ever live, but what if he was a fraud? This is the idea behind the new film “Anonymous.”

“Anonymous” centers around Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The Earl grows up with a passion for poetry and the written word but because this is seen a beneath his social status, he is unable to pursue it. The Earl takes to writing in secret and allows a drunk actor named Shakespeare to take the credit.

The plot of the film is incredibly convoluted. Most of the first half of the film is told in a series of flashbacks outlining the life of Edward de Vere. At the same time, the film establishes characters and tells a tale of political conspiracy theories that revolve around Shakespeare's plays. It can be very hard to follow. There are even flashbacks within flashbacks that will come back to the present only to go back to the original flashback.

The film feels like it is trying to tell two stories, the life of Edward and the story of his plays. Much of it seems pointless initially, but becomes important toward the end of the film.

The one aspect of the flashbacks that is done really well is the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen is portrayed at different times in her life by real-life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson. The resemblance between the two is understandably uncanny and works brilliantly in the film.

The rest of the cast fares well with the exception of Shakespeare, played by Rafe Spall. Spall's performance is fine, but his character isn't given anything interesting to do and disappears in the second half of the film.

A strange thing happens about two thirds of the way through the movie. Many of the unimportant characters are delegated to events off screen, and the film is left with only the core cast. It also stops using flashbacks and only tells the one story. With the exception of Shakespeare, when the unimportant characters are reintroduced they come back in a way that makes them relevant to the plot.

Then the film starts to be entertaining.  In the end, the two plots collide in a great way and shows just how much Edward de Vere gave up to write. It's unfortunate that the way the two stories were interwoven was done so poorly.

The film commits the cardinal sin of being boring. It runs just over two hours and doesn't get interesting until the last 45 minutes. It also says a lot about the film that one of its best moments is the performance of the “Saint Crispen's Day” monologue from “Henry the 5th.”

“Anonymous” isn't a bad film, but it's not a good one either. The plot is so complex that even with a good pay off — which this film has — most people won't care. It's unfortunate that a film about a great storyteller falls so flat because of bad storytelling.


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