I now come to the great disappointment of the year Anonymous, a historical drama with as its background the controversy as to whether the plays now performed and studied as by William Shakespeare were in fact the writings of the 17 Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere. The production is glorious using a host of big name stars including Vanessa Redgrave as the first Queen Elizabeth, Joely Richardson Rafe Spall and Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford. Joely, Vanessa’s daughter plays the young Elizabeth which is a great piece of casting.
The case against William Shakespeare being the author of the works is a strong one because the man was a low level actor. The list of candidates for authorship includes Francis Bacon, the 5 Earl of Rutland, and the 6th Earl of Derby with supporters arguing that the Earl of Oxford continues to pose the strongest.
Why the film disappoints is because of the blurring with the present and past in the film and where the issue of the authorship of the plays remains secondary to the basic plot which is who will succeed Elizabeth as she approaches the end of life and the move of the Catholics to put James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne and undo Henry’s break with Rome.
The background is that Oxford became a prodigious playwright from a young age. When Oxford lives in the House of Cecil he kills a servant for spying on him, Cecil blackmails him into marrying his daughter and also bans his further involvement in playwriting. The film suggests that Oxford had presented one his plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Young Queen Elizabeth and they establish a relationship which results in the Queen secretly given birth to their son who is brought up as the Earl of Southampton without the boy or Oxford being initially aware of his paternal parentage. This means that the boy would be the rightful heir after the Queen dies and scupper the plan of Cecil.
In his mature years Oxford visits the theatre and is impressed by a play from Ben Jonson which is about the position of Essex alleged to be another of the Queen’s secret sons. Johnson is imprisoned in the Tower because of the play but Oxford offers to free him if he passes Oxford’s play Richard III as Jonson‘s. Johnson although happy to be freed decides against claiming authorship which he offers to Shakespeare and is then surprised by the plays success. When Shakespeare discovers who the author of the play is he blackmails Oxford into funding the building of the Globe Theatre and as part of the deal begins to put the completed plays of Oxford as his own.
Oxford then attempts to blacken Cecil and writes Venus and Adonis to remind the Queen of their love Cecil captures two sons of the Queen on the grounds they are plotting to take the throne from her by force. Oxford has a private audience with the Queen to plead for his son and she agrees on the basis that no will ever know that he is the true author of the plays under the name of William Shakespeare. After the death of the Queen, Cecil makes every effort, successfully to ensure that Oxford is not revealed as the author especially after James when crowned becomes enthusiastic about the plays. Shakespeare retires to Stratford to become a business man with the money gained through being regarded as the author of Oxford’s work. This may all appear clear enough but has only been worked out long after I sat confused by what happened on the screen,