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Dispelling the classics?

OUT NOW! ANONYMOUS should have stuck with more Shakespeare and less Roland Emmerich.

In Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich follows one particular theory, that the real Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Ifans), but the costume drama Emmerich knits around it remains pale. Emmerich may have raised an interesting question but doesn’t have anything to answer it with that goes beyond an artistic vision of a Wikipedia article.

All Anonymous manages to do is make you pine for the beauty of the plays and sonnets quoted in the film. Whenever those words are heard – and precious few moments they are – they are so easily more engaging and spellbinding (especially when performed by people like longtime Globe artistic director Mark Rylance) than anything Emmerich manages to come up with, that you almost feel sorry for the guy.

A shame to waste the performances – especially Ifans’ inspired go as the tormented aristocrat who must write in order to silence the voices in his head, and yet cannot be an author because of his social position. But Ifans is the exception here – Emmerich doesn’t get anything that transcends the boundaries of the standard costume drama out of such experienced actors as Vanessa Redgrave or the young Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare.

Anonymous | Directed by Roland Emmerich, with Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall (UK, Germany 2011). Starts November 10