Monday, September 12, 2011

Anonymous post-Toronto: The Good, The Better, The Oscars?

It has been fascinating to monitor the press coverage of the Oxfordian Columbia/Sony Pictures film Anonymous as it had its official premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this past weekend. It opens in movie theaters across North America and the UK on Oct. 28 -- and throughout the rest of the world in the two months following.

The upshot has been very upbeat: Four reviews (that I've been able to find) have posted so far, and all four are anywhere from begrudgingly positive to wholly positive. 

After the break, excerpts from the four. First, though, SBAN blog correspondent Ted Alexander was in attendance at last night's screening and had the following to report: 
    I loved the movie as did my wife and daughter. Crowd liked it too. No standing O but sustained applause.
    I think the movie succeeded spectacularly as entertainment. The actors were superb in their roles; the story was interesting and I thought,well-told; the cinematography, costuming, CGI, etc were all great. I really enjoyed all the bits of the various Shakespeare plays that they staged in the film (really enjoyed the Henry V, Mark Rylance does a wonderful job with the opening chorus).
    Now as to the historical accuracy of the movie, there are a lot of things wrong, especially chronologically and a lot of things that are highly speculative. I'm not a proponent of the PT theory but it does serve the plot well and makes the story more interesting. We don't know anything about what sort of relationship Ben Jonson had with the author but the way it is portrayed in the film feels like what I imagine it could have been or at least what I would have liked it to have been if that makes any sense. I really liked the Jonson character in the film. He has one of the best lines in the film to de Vere's wife when leaving their home near the end of the film.
    All-in-all I think the writer and the director have done a masterful job of creating an entertaining film that is still enlightening in some significant ways while taking liberties with the facts. Bravo! Can't wait to see it again.

(Mr. Alexander also took a handheld video of the audience Q&A with director Roland Emmerich, five members of the cast and the screenwriter John Orloff.)

**EDITED on Sept. 13 to add correspondent Kathryn Sharpe's brief review after attending the other public screening to date of Anonymous -- this year's Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Ore.:
I loved it. Emmerich says it's his story of Shakespeare--a darker story. He changed the known history when necessary to convey an "emotional truth" just as Shakespeare did with his history plays. The changes will bother people who know what actually happened, but it's not unlike seeing your favorite book made into a film. Things will change for the sake of the art form. The most memorable scene for me? The interior of Oxford's study, with shelves piled high with leather-bound manuscripts, those precious manuscripts. And Hank Whittemore said that he does not mind that the movie will be picked apart and compared to the historical record, because it is not a pure fantasy (as was Shakespeare in Love), it is about real people, real literary works. Real politics and real power.

Below, then, are excerpts from the movie reviews of Anonymous posted online as of Sept. 12. (This will soon enough become woefully out of date. Check Rotten Tomatoes for the latest "score.")

    But Roland Emmerich's meticulously crafted and often well-acted exposé of the "real" William Shakespeare is shocking only in that it is rather good. ... Edward Hogg as the Queen's adviser is a standout, and Vanessa Redgrave makes an eminently awards-worthy Elizabeth. Best of all, though, are the snippets of the Mark Rylance (former artistic director of the modern Globe) as a jobbing actor bringing Oxford/Shakespeare's work to life. Its a testament to Emmerich's cluttered but sincere film that, at the heart of all the flash and filigree, the play really is the thing.

    Surprisingly, this is easily director Roland Emmerich’s best film. Instead of blowing up the world or engaging in other sorts of mass destruction, he actually steers a coherent path through a complex bit of Tudor history while establishing a highly credible atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue. His British actors deliver their usual reliable performances while designers and digital environmentalist stunningly re-create Elizabethan London right down to the tiniest detail. ...
    Nevertheless, the film grabs at historical facts, mangles them into a plot worthy of a John le Carré spy novel and takes the viewer on a breathtaking ride through ye olde London. Especially splendid are the aerial shots of that depict that era’s town with the accuracy of John Stow, the city’s first great surveyor. ...
    The coming and goings of opportunistic courtiers in Elizabeth’s palaces, the movement of poets, peasants, whores and cut-purses in and about city streets, the city’s love for conflict and conspiracy — all this feels absolutely right.

   In contrast, Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous is, at the very least, a curiosity, one with some clever casting and a very fine performance at its core.
   First, there’s the inspired casting of Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter, Joely Richardson, as old and young versions of Queen Elizabeth I. Richardson, with her tumble of pale curls, looks like a living, breathing version of John Millais’  Ophelia, but tougher. Redgrave plays her version of the character as if she has become more emotionally vulnerable, not less, with age — the older Elizabeth just works harder to submerge it beneath her imperious veneer.
    Both performances are great fun to watch, but it’s Rhys Ifans, as the Earl of Oxford, who keeps the movie spinning. He takes dorky, grandiose dialogue and turns it into something almost — well, Shakespearean. ... I giggled at parts of Anonymous, especially when our earl’s angry, disapproving wife catches him at his desk and bellows, like Gale Sondergaard with PMS, “My God! You’re writing again!” But I never laughed at Ifans. When you look into those eyes, you could almost believe that this was the guy who wrote all those sonnets.

    Anonymous will no doubt create endless debates but also cause plenty of cheers when it is released on Friday, Oct. 28. You can literally count up the Oscar nominations as the movie progresses—it gets better with each passing minute.

It certainly appears that Stratfordians who had hoped this movie would appear and just as quickly disappear will be disappointed: Oscars season is still five months away.


John in Berkeley said...

Thanks Mark for the prompt update. I'm more psyched than before, having read these reviews, and watched the live interview you posted. Bring it on!

douglas colling said...

great film. emmerich has really done something special and you don't have to be interested in the Authorship thing to enjoy it.

beautifully shot with great art direction and the bits of the plays
staged within the film look great as well.

both Rhys Ifans and Rafe Spall are excellent.

douglas colling

William Ray said...

As a movie, I don't know. Superior movies don't crunch and cram a lot of information into flash-cuts and still maintain artistic unity and inexorable pace. It did make impact towards the end as an emotionally viable story.

There were many opportunities missed, such as missing when Earl John was assassinated and Arthur Golding wept and pulled twelve-year-old Edward de Vere to his arm and cried he would love him as his own son. (IIR2.2). This with an out-of-normal-time scene of Hamlet seeing a specter of his father, would be a touching interflow of autobiography and art.

Another was when Anne Vere died and Oxford retired like a grieving sinner and produced W.B. Yeats-like humbled verse: I will become a hermit/ And do my penance straight/ For all the errors of mine eyes / With foolish rashness filled/ My hermitage shall be place/ Where melancholy's weight/ And one but love shall know/ The bower I mean to build/ Of faithful hope shall be my staff/ and daily when I pray/ My mistress's picture placed by love/ Shall witness what I say.

Regardless of whether 'Anonymous' meets my aesthetic of what film should be, as a courageous threshold response, intellectually and politically, to induced cultural amnesia, the film is wholly admirable. It transcends its medium.