What is this shit?
I have no difficulty with light-hearted speculation about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Back in 1972, as a young adman, I was given the task of re-branding and re-launching a failing restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon. In an attempt to make it stand out from the crowd, I suggested that it be re-named Marlowe’s and I wrote a series of ads based on the hypothesis that Marlowe had faked his death and written his subsequent plays under the name of Shakespeare. I am delighted to say that, forty years on, Marlowe’s is still in business.
Nor am I much exercised by the ludicrous liberties with historical fact which the scriptwriter has taken in order to promote the Oxfordian proposition. I don’t go to the cinema to learn history. I loved Shakespeare in Love at the same time as I was noting the errors that Stoppard had introduced. And, come to think of it, Shakespeare himself played fast and loose with historical accuracy in his plays.
No, my problem with Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is that it is awful.
Sure, it has some very good digital recreations of Elizabethan London. And it has a great cast: Sir Derek Jacobi and Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, Rafe Spall and David Thewlis amongst others. To be fair, only Jacobi is particularly egregious, but one does wonder what these people are doing. They can’t need the money, and the allure of getting out the dressing-up box for yet another costume drama must have worn off long ago.
But here they are, going through the motions, bestowing their theatrical truth on the banalities of a script which must push credulity to the limits in order to create a scenario in which de Vere’s authorship might possibly be fact. The more unlikely the theory, the harder it is pushed, the longer and more lingering are the scenes of court intrigue.
I have seen Ifans quoted as saying that the movie is “not fiction”; I have to believe that he has been mis-quoted. He is an intelligent actor and must surely be aware of the distortions, chronological absurdities and historical impossibilities that lie at the heart of the movie.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” said the Queen in Alice.
In the 130 minutes of this movie, you have to believe a hell of a lot more impossible things than that, and in a shorter time. (It just seems longer.)
But even if you do, you will still struggle to believe that the whole thing is any good.
Today’s listening: The Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, Thanksgiving 1957.