We gave it a C-
According to Anonymous, the plays and sonnets attributed to lower-class William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) were in fact written by Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the upper-class Earl of Oxford. According to Anonymous, Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Joely Richardson, depending on Her Majesty’s age) was a lusty bed-hopper who bore more than one illegitimate child. According to Anonymous, de Vere was one of the Queen’s lovers and also one of her…well, never mind, because Anonymous might just as well also declare that Elizabethans lived in yurts and invented the game of Sudoku, for all the pompous foolishness masquerading as intellectual provocation in this thumpingly silly yet self-serious period-piece what-if.
The movie is a self-described passion project for Roland Emmerich, the German-born director best known for making end-of-the-world disaster pics, including Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. The destruction here is confined to a turgid overload of intrigue concocted in cahoots with screenwriter John Orloff (A Mighty Heart), who fills his characters’ mouths with honking exposition interspersed with honking declarations of literary ardor along the lines of ”My poems are my soul!” Ifans is honorable and earnest in a star-crossed production; Redgrave does some queenly hamming in opulent costumes that might have been designed by Project Runway alumnus Chris March. But scholarly debate about the Shakespeare Authorship Question has little to do with this tale told by an idio…syncratic moviemaker up to little more than mischief. C-