As someone deeply in love with the words of the oh so famous William Shakespeare, I dreaded watching Columbia Pictures’ 2011 film Anonymous. I actively avoided seeing it, getting worked into a soapbox frenzy each time previews were sighted, bellowing at any poor soul who happened to be within earshot that:
“Shakespeare was a real person! What is wrong with our society that we are so insecure that we want to discredit one of the most talented and awe-inspiring writers of all time?!?!?!”
Needless to say, I put watching this off for months, afraid of what I might see. Today, I finally gave in and I must admit it was an extremely difficult movie to watch for someone who considers themselves a Shakespeare lover to the core. That being said…I must say… Anonymous was a superb film.
To me, the test of the brilliance of a film is the impact it has on its viewers. On the emotions it’s able to illicit, the passion it’s able to convey, the thoughts it’s able to provoke and inspire. This film does this. The stylistic choice to open as though one is in New York attending the theater and then proceeding to unfold the movie as though it were itself a play, places viewers in the same position as the mobs within, engaging the 16th century plays before them. Watching as characters form and organically develop in such detail and with such ease creates investment; we care about them and deeply feel their pains and sorrows when unthinkable and unacceptable surprise secrets are revealed.
Additionally, this film gives audiences unadulterated access to an Elizabeth more promiscuous and weak than we’ve ever seen portrayed, a Jonson like none other and an Earl of Oxford that is so endearing, that even an avid Shakespeare fan comes to feel perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if he actually was the true writer of the wealth of plays and sonnets we attribute to the great W.S. And let us not forget what a feat of acting it is to portray William Shakespeare in such a way that moves even someone dedicated to his every syllable to loath his very likeness in the film.
THIS is what theater was about in the time of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Jonson. This is why Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and countless others have been unforgettable for over 400 years. Whether you believe Shakespeare was a single man (as I do) or after watching Anonymous you’re inspired to think otherwise, know that this is art. It’s about the emotions, it’s about provoking intense thought, and most importantly, it’s about the power of words.