Who really wrote the plays, sonnets, and poems attributed to William Shakespeare? That question takes us on a romp through the lush world of Elizabethan intrigue, with machinations for the throne, murder and fire and riots, and lots of illegitimate sons. In a time when it was unseemly for a member of the royal court to write something as vulgar as plays, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford arranges for his plays to be performed without his name appearing anywhere near them. The semi-literate actor William Shakespeare brashly takes credit for them, earning him false acclaim while de Vere delights in seeing how the crowds adore his words.
But the plays contain more than merriment. Between the lines one can see bold criticism of the Cecils, that family which holds undue influence on Queen Elizabeth. Are the plays the thing to stop their scheming, even on the matter of who will reign as king when Elizabeth passes?
This is a masterful roller-coaster ride that fans of the Elizabethan period will have to view more than once to tease out all the conspiracies and complex relationships. The period detail is impressive: The muddy streets of London, the elaborate frocks worn by both men and women, the in-your-face ways actors interacted with audiences who stood at the very edge of the stage. A disadvantage is a love scene involving the young Elizabeth that many will find offensive. But Anonymous features outstanding performances, my favorite being Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson. And de Vere has that noteworthy line, "All authors have something to say, otherwise they'd make shoes."
If you want to follow the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, listen carefully to what Derek Jacobi says at the beginning and end of the movie, and realize that is just the tip of the iceberg.