DVD Release Date: February 7, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: October 28, 2011 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Roland Emmerich
Actors: Rhys Ifans, Jamie Campbell Bower, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Sebastian Armesto, Rafe Spall, David Thewliss, Edward Hogg, Xavier Samuel, Sam Reid, Derek Jacobi

Do you know your British royal history? Do you know your Shakespeare? If not, give up hope here and now of understanding Anonymous, the new Roland Emmerich-directed (Independence Day, 2012) film written by John Orloff (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole) positing that Shakespeare didn’t write all those plays we attribute to him.

Then again, even Anglophiles might get lost in this convoluted historical drama that thinks it’s clever but is mainly just overheated and a bit of a trial to sit through. It’s also full of cheap shots against Puritans and Catholics, leaving viewers with little edification and much to find distasteful, if not preposterous.

Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi (The King's Speech), gets one of the film’s classiest roles, book-ending the tale with a present-day introduction and a few closing remarks delivered with more Shakespearean passion than most of the rest of the cast combined. The two notable exceptions are Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1) as Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and the always-worth-watching Vanessa Redgrave (Cars 2) as the aging Queen Elizabeth I.

The film shifts to its Elizabethan setting with a scene of playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) hiding from authorities intent on smoking him out and finding out what he knows about the plays of Will Shakespeare. In this story, Shakespeare is an illiterate actor (Rafe Spall, One Day) who, after a successful performance of a play actually written by de Vere but without any attribution, basks in the audience’s warm glow by taking a bow and claiming to be the playwright. From that point on, he works with Johnson and de Vere to preserve the ruse, despite suspicions that the doltish actor could never have authored the witty and, as time goes on, increasingly political plays attributed to him.