Anonymous: People on the Internet are Wrong

Specifically, the people who gave negative reviews to the film ‘Anonymous’ on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s rare that I consider a movie perfect, but Anonymous nearly is*.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the basic premise is that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays.  And the negative reviews seem to think this is high treason.  One said that the film wasn’t dumb enough–it should have skipped blithely along in their pretty period costumes and not tried to convince the audience of the plausibility of their impossible theory.

Umm.  What?  Why does a movie need to be dumb to be better?  Would you prefer a Shakespeare in Love?  An equally ridiculous premise but so fluffy and innocuous that you can eat your popcorn and not dare think a dangerous thought?

Wikipedia describes the film as advocating the ‘Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship’ but I beg to differ.  I think the film takes the theory and uses it as a premise, not a conclusion.  If the theory were true, what circumstances would also have to be true?  The film uses names and positions and general historical points as props–much like Shakespeare himself (yes, I am still very much of the opinion that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare) used the general details of Julius Caesar.  You really want to bitch at me about that play because you don’t think it likely that Brutus and Marc Anthony would tag team speeches over a frenzied mob?

For the first time I saw a period film which wasn’t simply about dramatizing some scenes from a history book.  I saw a fictional film about a real period with real people.  I described it earlier tonight to a friend as an alternate history, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate.  Alternate history, to me, means a film which explores major what if questions: what if the Nazis won World War II, what if we never landed on the moon, what if …? This film wasn’t about ‘what would happen if’ it was more… ‘if this were true, how could we make a compelling story around it?’ That may seem like a distinction without meaning, but to me it’s a question of focus. Anonymous isn’t about proving that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays but about the power of words. It was about how plays can be important, how ideas can matter.  But more than that it was a teeming mass of Shakespearan themes: secret births and identities, love and betrayal, hope, treachery, honor… It was every play you’d ever seen jumbled together and then somehow woven into an immaculately linear plot.

It was an excellent film.  A smart film.  A film with all the lushness of period dramas (the snippets we get of Shakespeare’s plays are extraordinary) and with full knowledge of the inevitability of the history book.  We know James I will be king.  But for brief moments we want to forget that we know this.  We want the characters to succeed even though we know they can’t.

I cannot begin to express to you how much I love this film.  Films like this don’t get made often enough… films with audacity and cleverness which still manage to be ABOUT something.  Go see it.  If you’re not in a city where it’s playing, drive to another city and see it there.

*I say nearly because I was less than pleased with the overall portrayal of Queen Elizabeth. The part was very well acted, but tilted too far towards foolish and hysterical


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