Beginning in contemporary times, the mellifluous Derek Jacobi, who knows his way around a play or two and has been knighted twice, hurriedly rushes into the theater and onto the stage where he provides helpful background information for the crucial question. Who did pen these enduring works and why didn't he claim credit? The death sentences meted out for conspiracy and treason provide part of the answer, but it's richer and more satisfying than that. Spanning decades, the plot cuts back and forth with a coherent explanation.
Though he's known for catastrophe films like Independence Day and 2012, director Roland Emmerich finds that emotional turmoil and matters of governance offer as rich a spectacle and experience. Cinematographer Anna J. Foerster used Vermeer's paintings as inspiration for light sources, creating an atmospheric world. The first feature film to be shot digitally on the Arri Alexa, Anonymous benefits from vibrant colors in the historically earliest scenes when fluid camera moves dominate. As room to maneuver politically becomes more restrictive, the camera shoots from fixed positions and the colors shift to darker hues.
An article in September's American Cinematographer further describes ways Foerster used shafts of light from huge windows for emotional emphasis as characters walk through the bright areas. We might not notice all this, but it has a subtle, visceral effect. Adding to the immersive effect is the well-researched staging in reconstructed Rose and Globe theaters.
Through it all, superb acting brings the Elizabethan world to vivid life. Especially noteworthy, as Elizabeth I, is a magnificent Vanessa Redgrave, and her real-life daughter, Joely Richardson, plays Elizabeth/Redgrave as a younger queen. Anonymous won't have the final word as theories about the real author complete, but it sure presents a powerful, enjoyable version.
At area cinemas.