There have been some very good movies that were made over the years about Conspiracy Theories. What they end up doing is taking the most believed or plausible explanation for the events under question and make a film committed to that. Oliver Stone's masterpiece JFK is one of the best examples of it, but films like From Hell and All the President's Men are others. Anonymous is a film like those in that it looks at the theory that William Shakespeare did not actually write anything, but was just a front for the real writer who had to stay in the shadows. Unfortunately for Anonymous, this Conspiracy Theory is way too complex and doesn't hold water.
I'm not sure who this movie is made for. You would probably be interested in seeing this if you really loved Shakespeare's work and/or British Royal history; but if you do, then you'll not enjoy all the blatant inaccuracies in order to establish its point. But if you don't really enjoy Shakespeare and/or know very little about British Royal history, you'll probably really enjoy it; but let's be honest, you're not interested in seeing this in the first place.
Everything about the movie is top quality though. This is by far director Roland Emmerich's best film. He's the guy that is the Hollywood go-to for blowing up the world. His legacy until now has been films like Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Prior to this, his crowning achievement was The Patriot with Mel Gibson but the look and scope of Anonymous dethrones that in the attention to costumes, prop details and using Emmerich's experience with CGI to recreate the landscapes of 16th Century England.
The acting is tops as well. Usual goofball Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, Notting Hill) is shockingly great in this darkly dramatic role as The Early of Oxford aka the true "William Shakespeare." But he's joined by A-quality performances from Vanessa Redgrave (Cars 2, Mission: Impossible), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter series, The Big Lebowski) and Rafe Spall (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) who steals every scene he's in as William Shakespeare, who they portray as a showboating, blackmailing, drunken moron. He's very funny to watch but this portrayal is one of vast inaccuracy, even within the context of the conspiracy. And there is an example of the downfall of this film.
Any true fan of Shakespeare can sniff out the rewriting of historical events to make a puzzle piece fit where it doesn't and that sticks in your craw too much to fully enjoy the film. The order of when plays were released is mixed up, Shakespeare's contemporaries are amazed at hearing things for the first time that they actually all did before he did, deaths of famous figures are jumbled about to make the story stick better, etc. Not to mention the fact that the story itself is so hard to follow and keep all the characters straight that motives for massive plot points get lost at the fast pace of this 130 minute film.
In the end though the film stands as a wonderful send-up to Shakespeare's words...whoever wrote them. Anonymous is beautifully framed in modern times by explaining to the audience that no matter who actually wrote them (historians are 95% sure it actually was Shakespeare, by the way) that the words were so perfect and beautiful that they define what it means to be human. And for that, I respect and liked this film. The rest is history. Anonymous (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: B