Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Taking advantage of the holidays and cheap tickets (on Mondays), I went to catch movie, Anonymous.


It's about the theory that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write anything that he is famous for- that it was actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Being that the movie was set in Shakespearean times, it was also the Elizabethan era, so it was rather interesting to have a portrayal of the society then outside of the royal circle, even though most of the movie did keep it within the aristocrats.

At the beginning, I definitely felt a little out of the loop even though I had read rather extensively about the Tudor era England, as the countless nobility fed to me was a little of an overload. Plus, the movie used flashbacks to put some of the dialogues and actions into context, which meant that for some characters, there would be 2, and perhaps even 3, actors playing them at different ages. And given that the peerage system is confusing for many people, I was left stumped as the many Earls referred to each other by their titles. It was really a case of 'who's playing which character'?

 Young-ish Queen Elizabeth and her court.

But soon after I familiarised myself and suddenly everything made much more sense. I understood the characters better, I understood their motives and why they do what they did. And the movie became much, much more enjoyable after.

Another aspect that made the movie harder to understand was that it did not have a specific time for the events. It started at a certain period, then there was a flashback to 20 years ago, before coming back to the present, then another flashback to 40 years ago. The problem here is that no year was ever stated, and for me that made the story a little less convincing. Timeline is something I myself value very much in a good story.

When writing a story of my own, I would always plot out the timeline of important events so that everything would fit in place and I wouldn't contradict myself, e.g. saying something happened in January and then saying it happened in February later. Attention to detail is something that I enjoy in a good story, and I think that for historical fiction this aspect is even more important, so the fact that the movie did not state any year made it less believable; the few anchors I have is that I know who Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare are, and that they lived (if I'm not mistaken) in the 15th century, during the Renaissance period.

Not that it made it a lot easier- the actress who played the younger Queen had to play it in two different periods, which I would assume is sometime in her early 20s, and again sometime in her early to mid 30s. Another anchor was William Cecil, her advisor, who was played by the same man at all ages. So by judging how old he is, I knew whether or not it was a flashback. And good thing I recognised him too, he plays Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter movies.

Again, Queen Elizabeth- at different stages of her life. I've no idea how old they were, though.

One thing I did like about the movie is that it had much more scenes where it concerned just the 'normal' people- those who have to work and earn their wages, who are not fortunate enough to have titles to their names upon their birth. I'm not too sure about how accurate a portrayal of society at the time was, but it was nonetheless enlightening. For example, bets on animal fighting was widespread (grizzly bear versus several fierce dogs), and drinking was as common as it is now, though only those of the lower classes appear to get drunk. And not to mention, hygiene at the time was appalling- the ground was constantly muddy from the rain and footsteps of people, and the people appeared to have no regard for cleaning up after themselves- they always appeared rugged and just gives you this sense that they have never taken a bath (okay it was a luxury then).

Timeline aside, the story itself was convincing enough; when I came home after watching the movie I had immediately Googled the characters and events, and most of it was fiction. For example, Edward de Vere was not adopted (there was a twist, though expected one, at the end about his adoption) as a baby. And the Queen did not have any illegitimate children (related to the adoption, if you can put two and two together), at least I couldn't find any rumour or conspiracy theory about it.

So I guess in that sense, the writer of the script did a rather good job of adding aspects of fiction into a historical period in time, and of course, the main topic of did Shakespeare write his plays, sonnets and poems? This movie explores how it is possible that Shakespeare did not- apparently, none of it was written in his handwriting. From my online research, I can confirm that Edward de Vere is indeed, a possible author of Shakespear's works, if he did not indeed write them himself.

 Edward de Vere in the movie

There were of course elements of surprise in the movie, most of it revealed in the last few minutes by Robert Cecil, son of William Cecil, and who inherited his father's position and aptitude (cunning and ambitious, but yet loyal to their queen- very interesting characters).

All in all, Anonymous is a movie that was at least worth the money I paid for, and is perhaps worth spending more time to watch a second time (without taking into account the money cost involved), although it definitely is not movie of the year material.

Here's a trailer if you're interested:

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