De Vere's gambit: Noticing the ability of plays to stir up the emotions of the working-class crowds that primarily attends them, he aims to release his secretly-composed dramas promoting his philosophical ideals and taking thinly-veiled swipes at his political adversaries to the public in order to turn popular-opinion in his favor. While his original choice of ally is mild-mannered Ben Johnson, it's Johnson's rowdy, devious actor friend Will Shakespeare who jumps at the opportunity to become the public face of the Big Lie - for a price. A quick google-search of any of the real-life figures involved in all this will tell you that it's all fated to end badly for them, but the getting there is kind of fascinating in a sleazy "famous folks behaving badly" way - particularly a third act that mashes up the opening monologue of Richard III with an armed insurgency, a massacre and gotcha revelations of sexual-deviancy that seems to be dropping the gauntlet in front of every other gothic melodrama in the pipeline and sniffing, "Your move."

Since this is the film's main contention - that Shakespeare's plays weren't just well-written material but game-changing events that reshaped the course of history - it's no surprise that the film's greatest strength (and the area where it would most appeal to even the most enraged traditionalist) is in the portrayal of the Elizabethan Theatre itself. This is not the prim and proper Classical Theater we imagine today, or the gauzy fairystory of Shakespeare in Love; Anonymous sees it as it was: A dangerous, downmarket business aimed at the unwashed masses and run by cutthroats and vagrants. It understands that plays were the rock concerts of their day, and extrapolates that the arrival of Shakespeare was akin to the unveiling of a new sound; one heavier and more affecting than any before, capable of driving crowds into stage-rushing, headbanging frenzy.

In what's easily the film's best moment, the first ever performance of Henry V's Saint Crispin's Day Speech is recieved by a crowd in a manner more befitting Hendrix setting his guitar aflame - complete with an enraptured audience grasping out to touch the performers, leaping up onto the stage and being manhandled by security. Other scenes depict Romeo & Juliet sending an erotic charge through attendees not unlike the infamous early screenings of Deep Throat, and what might be the image that sums up the entire "Shakespeare as Mick Jagger" meta-theme: The Bard "inventing" crowd-surfing.

To be sure, there are other moments onhand designed to disarm grumpy fans and scholars with giggles of recognition; like flashbacks to De Vere's youth suggesting where famous characters and events from the plays originated, or mead-fueled arguments between Shakespeare's contemporaries at The Mermaid Tavern. But it's this central theme that will probably provide the biggest existential crisis for Shakespearian academics who opt to give "Anonymous" a shot - that a film that tries it's damndest to put Shakespeare: The Man through the wringer ends up doing extraordinarily right by Shakespeare: The Cultural Force. "Whoever it was that actually wrote this stuff," it ultimately says, "he kinda rocked."

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

Comments on