Roland Emmerich tries, and fails, to brush up his Shakespeare
Anonymous, the new film by action-apocalypse auteur Roland Emmerich, opens with an aerial shot of Times Square. What CGI calamity could he have in store? Another radioactive iguana running amuck? A super-blizzard? A magmic meltdown? No, this time out Emmerich has set his talents toward loftier purposes. I will not be the first to say: alas.
Down at street level, a man scrambles into the back door of a Broadway theater. He takes his place onstage in the nick of time, still wearing his overcoat and muffler. The curtain rises, and lo and behold: Derek Jacobi, silver-haired incarnation of the dramatic arts, meticulously pedigreed Shakespearean. He speaks a brief prologue about the Bard, upon whom he casts first praise and then suspicion. Could such noble words truly have been written by a man with only a grammar-school education? How can it be that not a single manuscript has ever been found written in Shakespeare's own hand? "Let me offer you a different story," Jacobi continues, "a darker story."
Sadly, "darker" in this instance seems essentially a synonym for "dimmer." Jacobi was doubtless chosen to deliver this introduction because he is a prominent enthusiast of the "Oxfordian" school of Shakespeare revisionism, the theories of which supply the central plot of the film. In any case, we don't see Jacobi again until the movie's closing moments, when his oddly untethered play-within-a-movie narrative frame (which is really a movie-within-a-play) abruptly reappears to underline the Oxfordian argument for anyone who might have nodded off during the intervening two hours.