October 28th, 2011

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Still of Vanessa Redgrave in AnonymousStill of Rhys Ifans and Rafe Spall in AnonymousStill of Vanessa Redgrave in AnonymousStill of Rafe Spall in AnonymousStill of Joely Richardson and Rhys Ifans in AnonymousStill of Joely Richardson in Anonymous

The theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who penned Shakespeare's plays. Set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the Essex rebellion against her.

Release Year: 2011

Rating: 6.8/10 (9,550 voted)

Critic's Score: 50/100

Director: Roland Emmerich

Stars: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis

The theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who penned Shakespeare's plays. Set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I and the Essex rebellion against her.

Rhys Ifans - Earl of Oxford
Vanessa Redgrave - Queen Elizabeth I
Sebastian Armesto - Ben Jonson
Rafe Spall - William Shakespeare
David Thewlis - William Cecil
Edward Hogg - Robert Cecil
Xavier Samuel - Earl of Southampton
Sam Reid - Earl of Essex
Jamie Campbell Bower - Young Earl of Oxford
Joely Richardson - Young Queen Elizabeth I
Paolo De Vita - Francesco
Trystan Gravelle - Christopher Marlowe
Robert Emms - Thomas Dekker
Tony Way - Thomas Nashe
Julian Bleach - Captain Richard Pole

Taglines: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?


Official Website: Official site |

Release Date: 28 October 2011

Filming Locations: Studio Babelsberg, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany

Box Office Details

Budget: $30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend: $1,012,768 (USA) (30 October 2011) (265 Screens)

Gross: $4,463,292 (USA) (11 December 2011)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson play the older and younger versions of Queen Elizabeth respectively. In real-life they are mother and daughter.

Factual errors: When Ben Jonson first arrives at the home of the Earl of Oxford after being released from prison the Earl is shown cutting, holding, smelling, and then referring to a white and red rose as "The Tudor Rose". "The Tudor Rose" is actually a heraldic emblem of England that is a combination of the white rose and the red rose of the House of York and the House of Lancaster, respectively. It is not, nor has it ever actually been, the actual bloom of a rose bush.

Young Earl of Oxford: How could you possibly love the moon when you have first seen the sun?

User Review

One of the best films of the year

Rating: 10/10

"I, once gone, to all the world must die." – William Shakespeare, Sonnet #81

Actor George Dillon has said, "The purpose of drama is to challenge people and to make people see things slightly differently." The challenge is laid down in stunning fashion by German director Roland Emmerich in his latest work, Anonymous, one of the best films of the year. Focusing on two of the most important events of the Elizabethan age: the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and the succession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth I, the film supports the premise that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a prominent aristocrat and court insider, was the real author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare, plays and poems of romance, tragic political intrigue, and comedy that contain such a compelling beauty and searing intensity that, after 400 years, still reach directly into our hearts and remain there forever.

Described as a "political thriller", Anonymous creates an atmosphere of foreboding and intrigue that, like many films of the genre, begins with a jumble of names, images, and flashbacks that challenge us to sort it all out. We are not certain of anything, but Emmerich invites us, in the words of Diane Ackerman "to groom our curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sunstruck hills." Steering us through the maze of Tudor history, the film makes credible the startling events of the time, providing an authentic recreation of London in the 16th century with its crowded theaters and raucous audience, cluttered streets, and court royalty decked out in fine jewels.

Though some may point out historical inaccuracies in the film, Emmerich, citing Shakespeare in Love as an example, says that the film contains an "emotional truth" rather than a literal one because "the drama is the primary concern." He need not have had concern on that aspect. Through Emmerich's direction, the writing of John Orloff, the cinematography of Anna Foerster, and the superlative performance of an all British cast including Oscar-worthy performances by Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I and Rhys Ifans as Oxford, Anonymous succeeds both as an authentic drama and a plausible explanation for many of the problems surrounding the authorship question. While the film may lack a certain depth of characterization, it more than makes up for it with style, spectacle, and an involving story.

To some, the film may be skating on narrative thin ice, Emmerich, however, told an interviewer that "if we provoke, let's provoke all the way," and provoke he does. According to Anonymous, de Vere, in addition to being Shakespeare, was also the illegitimate son of the Queen and, in 1573, the father of a son with Elizabeth, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel). Emmerich handles the subject of incest with great taste, with neither the "Virgin Queen" nor Oxford knowing the truth until close to the end of their lives. After a brief prologue by actor Sir Derek Jacobi, the film begins with the arrest of playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armento) by faceless men in knight's armor in the middle of a theatrical performance.

The author of the play is a well-known writer who, though he is soon released, is taken to the Tower and accused of sedition and slandering the State by the mere act of authoring a play, the mark of a totalitarian society reflecting a growing disdain for the arts. The film then flashes back five years, then forty years, as we become acquainted with the young Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower), taught by highly educated tutors with access to a vast library in the home of William Cecil (David Thewlis), where he was brought up as a ward of the court after his father's death. We also witness his marriage to a teenage Anne Cecil (Amy Kwolek), daughter of William, a marriage that never produced any lasting satisfaction for either party.

As we return to present time, Oxford is forced to hide his identity because of the biting satire of his plays that lampoon some of the more prominent members of the court, and also as a result of a political arrangement that becomes clearer later in the film. His initial choice to front for him is the same Ben Jonson but Jonson refuses, passing the mantle to Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an actor for the Lord Chamberlain's Men who seizes the opportunity. In a superbly comic performance, Spall portrays Will as an illiterate money-grubber who can barely speak coherently but is willing to sell his name to Oxford at a premium cost. The heart of the plot, however, focuses on the attempt to seize power from Cecil's son Robert, an episode that is known to history as The Essex Rebellion of 1601.

This insurrection, led by Robert Devereaux, the Second Earl of Essex (Sam Reid) results in his beheading and the imprisonment of Southampton who is sent to the Tower awaiting certain death. Oxford's attempt to persuade Elizabeth to save their son results in a political deal that makes us privy to why Oxford was never able to reveal his authorship of the Shakespeare canon. While some critics may proclaim the movie a moment of singularity that indicates the end of the world as we know it (even before 2012), Anonymous may have the opposite effect, opening the subject to a wider audience who may be able to view Shakespeare and his times from a totally new perspective.

In Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," Jubal said we're prisoners of our early indoctrinations, "for it is hard, very nearly impossible, to shake off one's earliest training." If my intuition is correct, the prison gates will soon be swinging wide open, and the shaking will begin in earnest. As Victor Hugo said, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

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