Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anonymous (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Zounds! I am beside myself. I would have thought that the silly historical conspiracies  in the mode  of Dan Brown were over, but Oh Heavens it is not so. We have a real literary teaser on our hands, with much more  twists and turns than necessary. It is at bottom, a Shakespeare soup opera of a show. But thankfully it is very well acted. 

"Anonymous" directed by the Blockbuster auteur Roland  Emmerich puts us in a very fictional version of Shakespeare's world. The camera opens on the  beat up and bruised poet  and editor Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) interrogated over the mysterious works of  Shakespeare. We are told in a prologue of the film that Shakespeare never wrote a word, that no original manuscripts were ever found, that The Bard was,  in fact, a charismatic illiterate  unable to write simple words. Really? I don't know about  you, but I had trouble suspending my disbelief.

I'm not going to spoil this Bard brouhaha of a "who-penned-it". Suffice to say, one of the main literary princes on the throne of Will is the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), who as a young man played by Jamie Campbell, bears a resemblance to Jack Sparrow. Both actors do good turns here. Despite the soap opera plot, Rhys Ifans is compelling  as a playwright who gets no respect. Cluttered within his mansion home that looks like Ray Bradbury's rustic workshop, he comes off as an Elizabethan Tennessee Williams, driven "mad by voices".

Rafe Spall as Will Shakespeare is entertaining as a comical and befuddled mediocre actor once you just let go. A riot he is and very fun to watch, but he may be blasphemous to Shakespeare purists. He is portrayed as quite the bathroom- humored buffoon, more Jack Black than The Bard. Keep an eye out for the mosh-pit scene, that's right. Shakespeare in a mosh pit. A must see!

Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave work well together as versions of Elizabeth I. Richardson's queen is a young succubus, while Redgrave is a bit of a lion fish Grand Domme. Both are riveting together and they each have chemistry. Previously both have worked together before as mother and daughter    on Tv's "Nip Tuck".

The main stumbling block to enjoying "Anonymous" is the narrative. The plot has more twists than a mountain road in Figueres,  Spain, touching on war, incest, authorship and royal lineages that are way too meandering to follow. The flashbacks are choppy with the cardinal sin of  many titles, putting us forward and backward in time, addling my paranoiac fears of ADD, or making me feel that I actually had it during the course of the film.  I honestly forgot the characters. The story had so many flashbacks in time that everyone looked the same after a while with nearly identical goatees.

I found myself not caring about the religious war subplot, as there was so much back and forth. I felt like saying Roland Emmerich doth protest too much.

Despite the ponderous pander of the story, the stirring often comic performances were magnetic. The story may be a tempest in a teapot  but the flamboyant charge in the acting proves to have flair and fire. The verve of Rafe Spall and Rhys Ifans may not be the souls of the age but they are the saviours  of this film.

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