Who was the Steve Jobs of 1602? The equivalent of Bill Gates? Hugh Jackman, Eli Manning, Madonna? The celebrities of the day — whoever was monopolizing the front pages, or their equivalent — are long forgotten. Yet we keep hearing about that enigmatic scribe from Stratford-upon-Avon, who wrote all those plays. Or maybe didn't write all those plays. And who hobnobbed with the queen, or didn't. Yes, it's old Will Shakespeare who is once again on our minds, our stages, and even on our wide-screen television. In this case, we have Roland Emmerich's Anonymous [Columbia]. The folks out in movieland have taken those centuries-old rumors — did he? or didn't he? — and latched onto one Edward de Vere, just then the Earl of Oxford. Did he write the plays and let some illiterate bumpkin take credit? This is not an argument I'll jump into; I would guess that Will wrote the plays, but I haven't done decades of research on the subject and am glad to stay out of it. (I can, however, authoritatively speak about stuff written — or not — by the likes of Irving Berlin and Jerry Herman.)
I do not take "Anonymous" as serious scholarship on the W.S. question; those who do might well find the notions set forth in the movie to be infuriating. I see it, though, as a colorful and effective period adventure of the fictional variety. Vanessa Redgrave, as always, attracts our attention as the dame who put Elizabeth in Elizabethan; Joely Richardson, offspring of Redgrave and director Tony Richardson (of "Tom Jones"), plays her mother's daughter. Or, rather, her mother's — Vanessa's — younger self. Rhys Ifans, whom you might remember from "Notting Hill," plays Shakespeare. Or rather Oxford, this film's anointed real Shakespeare, while the real Shakespeare (but not the authentic Shakespeare) is played by Rafe Spall.
The newly-released "Anonymous" arrives at the very same moment as the Blu-ray edition of the 1998 Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love [Lionsgate]. This gives us a different series of conjectures on the life of the Bard. Whether the thing is at all realistic, let alone likely, is something else; it seems pretty certain that the actual Will was not a dashing leading man type and did not look remotely like Joseph Fiennes. Even so, "Shakespeare in Love" is pure delight, under which classification we can file the Oscar-winning performances by Gwyneth Paltrow (as the girl with whom the playwright is in love) and Judi Dench (as that same Queen Elizabeth). While the screenplay assuredly doesn't come from the author of Hamlet, it does come from the fellow who penned Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead. He's pretty good, too.
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