Anonymous (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 6, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” is compelling, beautiful and thought-provoking.
FILM RELEASE: 2011
DURATION: 93 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English and French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital English – Audio Description Track , Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish, French
COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RATED: PG-13 (Some Violence and Sexual Content)
RELEASE DATE: February 7, 2012
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by John Orloff
Produced by Roland Emmerich, Larry J. Franco, Robert Leger
Executive Producer: Voker Engel, Larry J. Franco, Robert Leger
Line Producer: Marcus Loges
Co-Producer: Christoph Fisser, Kirstin Winkler, Charlie Woebcken
Music by Harald Kloser, Thomas Wanker
Cinematographer: Anna Foerster
Edited by Peter R. Adam
Production Design by Sebastian T. Krawinkel
Art Direction by Sabine Engelberg, Stephan O. Gessler, Philip higgs, Stefan Speth, Bryce Tibbey
Set Decoration by Simon-Julien Boucherie
Costume Design by Lisy Christl
Rhys Ifans as Earl of Oxford
Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I
Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson
Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare
David Thewlis as William Cecil
Edward Hogg as Robert Cecil
Xavier Samuel as Earl of Southampton
Sam Reid as Earl of Essex
Jamie Campbell Bower as Young Earl of Oxford
Joely Richardson as Young Queen Elizabeth I
Paolo De Vita as Francesco
Trystan Gravelle as Christopher Marlowe
Robert Emms as Thomas Dekker
Tony Way as Thomas Nashe
Julian Bleach as Captain Richard Pole
Derek Jacobi as Prologue
Alex Hassell as Spencer
Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, ANONYMOUS speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds… who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare? ANONYMOUS poses one possible answer, focusing on a time when cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage.
What if William Shakespeare did not write the famous plays that he is known for? What if someone else wrote the plays but Shakespeare was just the frontman?
This is the premise for the 2011 film directed by Roland Emmerich and written by John Orloff. A speculation on an idea that Edward de Vere was the true writer of the plays that have been attributed to William Shakespeare.
Needless to say, the film was met with controversy and debate and for the most part has received mix reviews. But there is no doubt that “Anonymous” is a beautifully shot film featuring wonderful performances, exquisite costume design and also amazing set design to make this era in time come alive in cinema.
It’s definitely a radical departure for apocalyptic filmmaker Roland Emmerich but it is a compelling film that may be thought-provoking or perhaps blasphemous for those who are fans of the work of William Shakespeare.
“Anonymous” stars Rhys Ifans (“Notting Hill”, “Neverland”, “Little Nicky”), Vanessa Redgrave (“Howard’s End”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Blow-Up”), Sebastian Armesto (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, “Marie Antoinette”, “Bright Star”) and Rafe Spall (“Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, “A Good Year”).
“Anonymous” begins with Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury (played by Edward Hogg) ordering a search of manuscripts. We see the actor Ben Jonson (played by Sebastian Armesto)hiding the manuscripts in the Globe theatre which was later burned down.
The film then goes back in time and we watch the life of Edward de Vere (played by Rhys Ifans). As a younger, de Vere is portrayed in the film as a genius and at the age of nine, he performed in a play of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the role of Puck for a young Queen Elizabeth. We then see how he was forced to live in the home of William Cecil where he was constantly repressed. deVere kills a spying servant and William Cecil has used this murder as blackmail which forces him to marry his daughter Anne Cecil (played by Helen Baxendale) and thus forced to give up his dreams of literature because it would be a dishonor to the Cecil family.
As there is political squabble between the Tudors and the Cecils over who will succeed Queen Elizabeth I, De Vere becomes the lover of Queen Elizabeth and unknown to De Vere, she sires an illegitimate son named Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, which is kept hidden from the Cecils.
Meanwhile, de Vere struggles with staying away from literature. His wife Anne reminds him that it would be a dishonor to her family and to the Queen’s counselors. Also, William Cecil believes that theatres are sinful. But yet, de Vere writes these plays in secret.
As William Cecil plans for his son James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots to be crowned king, revelations come up that there may be a new contender to the throne.
de Vere has written “Henry V” and “Richard III” as forms of propaganda to start a revolution and works with Ben Johnson in hopes he can use his influence to have Jonson use his name for “Henry V” to be made into a play. But the plan backfires when a young actor named William Shakespeare (played by Rafe Spall) claims authorship.
And when Shakespeare finds out that the real writer is de Vere, he tries to extort money from him.
But as others start to have suspicion that William Shakespeare can not possibly be the man who has written these plays, that it must be someone else, will the truth that de Vere wrote them, be made public and putting his family in risk?
“Anonymous” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). The picture quality for “Anonymous” is fantastic. Black levels are solid, inky and deep, colors look amazing. But what strikes the viewer the most is the amount of detail that can be seen in HD. From the costumes and the surroundings, you can see the details in the clothing to also the detail of the characters faces.
Cinematographer Anna Foerster may be known for directing TV series and working the camera on films such as “Aeon Flux”, “The Day After Tomorrow, “2012” to name a few, but as the first major film as the main cinematographer, she has done an amazing job in capturing the era but also providing beautiful shots.
Impressive video that fans of the film will no doubt enjoy on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Anonymous” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and with an English -Audio Description Track. For a film like “Anonymous”, I was expecting it to be primarily a dialogue driven film and primarily a center and front channel soundtrack. While dialogue heavy, “Anonymous” definitely utilizes the surround channels by making the crowds alive and creating a sense of immersion through its ambiance. There is good amount of directional sound effects utilized in this film especially during the tennis match in which you can hear the balls with amazing clarity.
Towards the end of the film there is a bit of action and you can hear some LFE use, the music sounds absolutely fantastic and both Harald Kloser (“2012”, “Day After Tomorrow”, “10,00 B”, “AVP: Aliens vs. Predator”) and Thomas Wanker (“2012”, “The Day AFter Tomorrow”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series) did a pretty solid job in creating music of that era.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
“Anonymous” comes with the following special features:
- Anonymous PS3 Wallpaper/Theme – For those with a PlayStation 3, you can add an “Anonymous” wallpaper or theme.
- Commentary with Director Roland Emmerich and Writer John Orloff – Featuring an in-depth audio commentary by Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff.
- More Than Special Effects – (13:08) A featurette about recreating the 16th century for the film.
- Who Is The Real William Shakespeare? – (10:39) The cast and crew talk about the film and if Shakespeare did or didn’t write his plays.
- Speak The Speech… – (16:14) A featurette about casting the roles for “Anonymous”.
“Anonymous” is a film that definitely presents a question that many people probably never thought about… did he write his famous plays or was he just a frontman for someone else?
I suppose one can say that for nearly ever historical figure from Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Leonardo Da Vinci, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette and as far back to Jesus Christ, there are conspiracy theorist who believe there is more to the story of these individuals.
“Anonymous” is a pretty intriguing political thriller and pseudo-historical drama that does play with history for theatrical reasons but it does present a valid argument if taken as fact that William Shakespeare was a fraud and that the real writer, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is the true originator of the plays. Shakespeare becoming the frontman due to a failed rebellion led by de Vere’s son and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. And that this was due to the mingling of Queen Elizabeth who had a romantic relationship with de Vere.
For one, I’m not an erudite of British history and to director Roland Emmerich, he has always been a director that has made films that were compelling and literally make you think of “what if?”. This has been his way with “The Day After Tomorrow” and even “2012”. Granted, Emmerich is mainly known for creating apocalyptic films but despite his departure from making those type of films, “Anonymous” is possibly his most compelling film yet.
While saying that, this film may not be so casually accessible by audiences as this is not a “Shakespeare in Love” type film. This is a sophisticated drama capturing an era through beautiful cinematography, wonderful costume design and set decoration. Also, for theatrical sake, there is some playing around with timelines, so viewers shouldn’t take the film as absolute fact, but merely consider the possibilities that Shakespeare, with whatever evidence is out there, may not be the actual writer of the plays.
“Blasphemous”, the words that I’m sure many Shakespeare erudites may cry out when watching this film but taking the film for what it is, I see the story as a perspective but as a film, I find “Anonymous” to be an enjoyable film with a wonderful performance by Rhys Ifans, Rafe Spall and Vanessa Redgrave. As mentioned, the cinematography for this film was fantastic, the costume design and set design were wonderful and the music composition was very good.
And on Blu-ray, this film looks absolutely wonderful as clarity and detail are the keywords that come to mind quite often, the lossless soundtrack was also much better than I expected. There are also a good number of special features as well, but it would have been interesting to have a more in-depth featurette on the debate on Shakespeare being the original writer by having historians presenting us actual evidence and arguments.
Overall, “Anonymous” is a speculation on a debate that continues to live on as they do with other historical figures. And because Shakespeare’s past and what is known about him is not as known as his work, filmmaker Roland Emmerich does a fine job of offering his take on the speculation with his compelling film. And “Anonymous” is a film that I can definitely recommend.
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