If you’re serious about a subject, having Independence Day director Roland Emmerich on your side is a Faustian pact: He’ll give your argument popularity, but only while making it appear utterly silly. Previously he’s rendered ridiculous theories both nonsensical (the irrational fear wreaked by a 2500 year old calendar in 2012) and robust (global warming in The Day After Tomorrow). So, tough break for the Oxfordians, the group who believe that William Shakespeare did not write the works of William Shakespeare: Their daffy ideas have materialized in Emmerich’s Anonymous, which couldn’t have done a better job discrediting them if it was actually trying to discredit them.
According to the Oxfordians, the true author of some of the most beautiful and insightful words in the English language was Edward de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford. For reasons that take 130 minutes, much impenetrable plotting and lots of time jumping to explain, de Vere (Rhys Ifans, with ashen face and darkened eyes) is forced to chose a front for the plays that he can’t keep himself from writing. (“The voices!”, he declaims to his disapproving wife in a typically hilarious scene. “I can’t stop them!”) That front turns out to be one William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), depicted here as a drunken oaf capable of no more than dirty limericks, which he couldn’t write because, well, he literally couldn’t write. (Note: the real Shakespeare could write.) Among its taller claims is that he murdered Christopher Marlowe. (Note: No one thinks Shakespeare murdered Christopher Marlowe.)
That Spall acts as though performing in a Little Britain sketch is one of the many ways in which Emmerich predictably overplays his hand, although the real villain isn’t Emmerich. It’s Orloff’s script. Orloff has the unenviable task of making a coherent story out of the Oxfordian narrative, which can only be performed by buying into every semi-supportable conspiracy theory, baldly rewriting history when necessary and pulling other stuff directly from deep within his own ass.
The result is an amusingly crazy fever dream that even the Oxfordians would find too far-fetched, and will result in little but professors being annoyed by gullible plebeians. Or is that being too ivory tower elitist? After all, if we apply Occam’s Razor, which states that the simplest answer tends to be the correct one, then it should be perfectly obvious that Shakespeare’s plays weren’t written by Shakespeare—as believed by only all but a negligible number of scholars and historians—but rather de Vere who, according to Anonymous, had to pretend he didn’t write his works because the noblemen around him were a bunch of joyless dicks who were blackmailing him into a non-artistic life and were, at the same time, hatching an intricate plot to usurp the throne from Queen Elizabeth, who by the way had also sired a love child with de Vere, thus complicating matters further. QED, yes?