by Tony Medley
Run time 130
OK for children.
One of the big
reasons to have well-known stars like Matt Damon or George Clooney in
movies is that it allows the viewer to easily identify the characters of
the film. You see one of them and you remember him and his character.
This movie is populated by actors who, with all due respect, are less
than household names. As a result it takes a long time to appreciate who
is who, which inundates the poor viewer with confusion.
To cut through
all the chaff, this is the story of the relationship of Ben Johnson
(Sebastian Armesto), Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans),
William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), and Queen Elizabeth I (the real life
mother-daughter team of Vanessa Redgrave and Jolely Richardson) with
respect to who was the author of the plays we know as being credited to
it's disappointing, overly long, convoluted, confusing, and fatuous,
being directed by the master of that genre, Roland Emmerich. Emmerich,
you may recall, was responsible for The Day After Tomorrow (2004), one
of the more witless films of all time.
Even though he
gets fine performances out of the cast, especially Ifans and Spall,
Emmerich's film is so long and confusing and tries to deal with so many
things that it is ultimately dulls the point he's trying to make.
screenwriter John Orloff bring everything but the kitchen sink into the
plot, including alleging that the Queen gave birth to Essex and then had
an incestuous relationship with him before beheading him. In fact
Emmerich and Orloff seem to be making the specious argument here that
the Queen was such a profligate slut that there were many men in England
who might have been able to call the Queen his mother or lover or both.
But the main
point they try to make is that De Vere was the author of all the
writings credited to Shakespeare. Why he tried to hide his authorship is
never explained. Given everything else they throw into this, it's odd
that they didn't come up with a logical reason why he hid his
authorship, since everyone important to him knew it, at least according
to the film.
My take on
Shakespeare is that he did, indeed, write all his plays. Why wasn't he
more lauded in his own time? Because he was just a hack in his own time,
not unlike today's sitcom writers, just putting out his plays every year
because that was his job. They were not lauded then because the Globe
theater wasn't the playground of the rich and famous. It was just an
entertainment for the masses. Shakespeare did his work and went home and
nobody thought anything about it. It just happened that what he wrote
was brilliant, but nobody realized it until the mid-19th Century when
his work was revived and finally appreciated.
Genius sprouts in
strange places. Who can explain why Gershwin and Mark Twain, just to
take two examples, were so prolific when their parents and upbringing
don't seem to justify what they created? But that's the main basis for
denying Shakespeare his place in the clouds.
Emmerich did well was recreating the appalling living conditions of the
Elizabethan era, especially in the recreation of the Globe Theater. I
generally like speculations like this, even when I don't agree with
them, but this is just too long and confusing. I think it could be
re-edited and cut into a pretty good movie, but that's not to be.