Blu-ray Review: Anonymous

Anonymous Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich | CAST: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Jamie Campbell Bower, Derek Jacobi
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/7/2012 | PRICE: DVD $30.99, Blu-ray $35.99
BONUSES: deleted scenes, extended scenes, featurettes, commentary
SPECS: PG-13 | 130 min. | Period drama | 2.35:1 aspect ratio | 5.1 DTS-HD audio | English, Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

AnonymousAnonymous is a disappointing film. In the hands of Roland Emmerich, who scandalized facts in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, the history of William Shakespeare’s plays is skewered and even brought down to soap opera level.

Emmerich plays fast and loose with what little facts there are about Shakespeare. Yes, it has long been believed that the man called William Shakespeare is not the true writer of the plays and sonnets published under his name. In fact, historians have a number of theories as to the real author’s identity. Emmerich grabs onto one of those theories, that Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, etc., were actually written by Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

So Anonymous becomes not so much a story of the true creator of Shakespeare’s plays, but a Tudors-esque melodrama of life in Elizabethan England. To throw in more scandal, Emmerich latched onto a theory that De Vere was having an affair with Queen Elizabeth (played well by real-life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave of Letters to Juliet as the older Queen and Joely Richardson of TV’s Nip/Tuck as the younger) and that the Queen had a series of illegitimate children. This theory hasn’t been given much weight by historians, and its inclusion in Anonymous gives the film a soap opera feel.

To top it off, in trying to make his case for the Earl being the true writer, Emmerich downgrades the character of William Shakespeare (played with enthusiam by Rafe Spall, One Day) as an offish, greedy idiot, a character who’s entirely two-dimensional. And the Earl (Passion Play‘s Rhys Ifans looking particularly dour as the older and Jamie Campbell Bower of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 as the younger) is portrayed as a sad, weak man whose writing comes from him being a little mad. At the beginning of the film, the Earl expounds on the power of words, but later, his writing is seen as an obsession that’s destroying his life.

Accuracy aside, the movie’s main problem is that it’s slow. Its drama, dirt and action is rolled out piecemeal between politics that are far less intriguing than HBO’s The Tudors.

Anonymous does look beautiful, however, the old London, the gorgeous Elizabethan costumes, and Blu-ray’s high-definition shows them off well.

The Blu-ray also has a good amount of special features. The deleted and extended scenes can be missed; they’re as good as the movie itself.

But the best extra is the featurette “More Than Special Effects,” which shows just how much of what you see in the film is CGI. According to the piece, entire sets were generated in the computer with the actors working against green screens.

The featurette “Who Is the Real William Shakespeare?” shows screenwriter John Orloff (Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) and Emmerich defending their theory of Shakespeare’s true identity and includes interviews with the main actors telling about their characters.

The final piece, “Speak the Speech,” further goes into the characters and the making of the movie, including Vanessa Redgrave revealing that the best thing about the costumes is they were stitched the same way they would have been back during Elizabeth I’s reign. Seems unnecessary, but whatever. She also points out that they were uncomfortable. I can buy that.

Emmerich and Orloff also offer a commentary, in which Orloff points out that when you’re making a historical movie, it will never be 100% accurate. True. But in the featurette “Speak the Speech,” Emmerich quite laughably says, “I want to make this movie as authentic as possible.” He’d better try again.

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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.