26 October 2011

LoFiFest 2011 Part V

And so another year of the London Film Festival is over--for me, at least, as there is still a whole day of movies still to go, including the closing night gala, Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea. But last night's gala screening of Roland Emmerich's new film Anonymous was my last LoFiFest film of the year. "There won't be any explosions," Emmerich, who has previously directed the likes of Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, assured us before the screening last night. Actually, though, where would a historical romp through Shakespeare's London without a few hundred peasants being blasted with canons on Tower Bridge? As well as Emmerich's appearance, we were also graced by the presence of Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans and some of the younger lads in the cast (most of whom, I was relieved to discover, are actually about my age).

Roland Emmerich and some of the Anonymous cast
Anonymous advances the theory that the works attributed to William Shakespeare were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans and Jamie Campbell Bower), who was far too noble to let the world think that someone from a family as old as his could possibly indulge in such a lowly art as play writing. He tries to persuade then struggling playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to claim ownership of the plays but proud Jonson claims their styles are too different and refuses. Luckily, a raucous actor by the name of Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is more than happy to say he wrote the plays and be paid handsomely for his silence.

But Anonymous is as much a story of Elizabeth I's relationships with some of the most important statesmen and nobles of the second half of the 16th century as it is Shakespeare in Love: The True Story. Clever casting sees Joely Richardson playing the younger queen, who meets a pre-pubescent Oxford after watching a performance of one of his plays (which bears a striking resemblance to A Midsummer Night's Dream) and, according to the movie, later becomes his lover. Vanessa Redrgave, meanwhile, plays the older Elizabeth--ageing, worried about the succession but refusing to name an heir, and fed up of being manipulated. William Cecil (David Thewlis) has always been one of her most loyal advisors but he and his son Robert (Edward Hogg) are falling out of favour as the queen fawns over her new favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid), who happens to be the step-son of Robert Dudley, her close buddy and would-be (or perhaps could-have-been) lover. Essex is also the eponymous Essex of the Essex Rebellion, although in Anonymous, the Cecils are the politically ruthless baddies, while Essex's so-called rebellion was manufactured by the Cecils, with a little accidental help from Oxford.

I went into the film thinking it would be a bit like a hybrid of Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and the star-studded British cast and often romping rhythms did sometimes make it feel like the former, although it wasn't anywhere near as funny. That isn't necessarily a bad thing and the scenes with Rafe Spall, still in Ian mode, certainly received a good deal of laughs, but I did think the script would have benefitted from a dash more lightness and wit. I also wish they'd let Ben Affleck reprise his role as rich would-be actor Ned Alleyn. Well, almost. Even for an alternative history, which could, of course, be true or have elements of truth to it, Anonymous made even The Tudors look historically accurate, but for once I don't mind too much about that, especially because although I know a lot about the Tudors, my knowledge is focused around the years from 1485 to 1587 or so.

I intended not to read any reviews before writing this post but I accidentally read Time Out London's analysis, which called Anonymous "a high-end Christmas panto, as a red-faced, enthusiastic cast are put through the paces by their barking, domineering director." Which is a fair summary, really.

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