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Stars: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Edward Hogg, Joely Richardson, Rafe Spall, Sebastian Armesto, Xavier Samuel, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sam Reid, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, Helen Baxendale, Ned Dennehy
Director: Roland Emmerich
Who would have thought that Ifans, noted for wild comedy roles, could produce a towering performance this restrained? And, indeed, who would have imagined Emmerich, maker of Godzilla and 2012, capable of such a film as Anonymous?
Ostensibly, the film centres on the notion that Shakespeare's plays were in fact written by the Earl of Oxford (Ifans). But this strand is incidental. What the film is really about is the intrigues at the Elizabethan court, involving his lieutenant, Southampton (Samuel), as well as Oxford himself (Ifans, earlier Campbell Bower), the queen (Redgrave, earlier Richardson) and the conniving Cecils (Thewlis, Hogg), Oxford being married to the older Cecil's daughter.
The older Oxford tries to persuade popular playwright Ben Jonson (Dominic Cooper-lookalike Armesto) to take responsibility for the plays to which he cannot put his name. But Jonson refuses, and an actor in one of the plays, Will Shakespeare (Spall) suddenly steps forward and claims authorship.
The acting here is uniformly good, with Hogg, Armesto and especially (in the best work of his career) Ifans outstanding; and the production design of 16th/17th century London is not only jaw-dropping byut skilfully realised by the director.
If I do have a criticism, it's that the story developments are quite difficult to keep track of: I never did quite figure out how Oxford's bid to provide Essex (Reid) with a mob at his back, in his final bid to see the queen, was betrayed. Nonetheless, a terrific and largely British achievement.
UK/Germany 2011. UK Distributor: Sony (Columbia). Colour by deluxe.
130 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 23 Oct 2011