Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. United Kingdom/Germany/USA, 2011. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Relativity Media, Centropolis Entertainment, Studio Babelsberg, Anonymous Pictures, Vierzehnte Babelsberg Film, Siebente Babelsberg Film, Achte Babelsberg Film. Screenplay by John Orloff. Cinematography by Anna Foerster. Produced by Roland Emmerich, Larry J. Franco, Robert Leger. Music by Harold Kloser, Thomas Wanker. Production Design by Sebastian T. Krawinkel. Costume Design by Lisy Christl. Film Editing by Peter R. Adam. Academy Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Goodness knows there’s no one I trust more for revelations of history’s errors than the director of The Patriot and Independence Day. In this empty-headed drama, we find out that the many plays attributed to the pen of William Shakespeare (played as a drunken lout by Rafe Spall) were actually the handiwork of the Earl Of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), who has to keep his authorship secret because it would be unbecoming of his class to openly partake in the theatre, which the law frowns upon. We also discover, through numerous flashbacks, that Queen Elizabeth I has fathered many bastard children (because frequent months-long absences would never be noticed in the olden days before they had electric lights and day planners), including one whose parentage is a pivotal plot reveal as the film progresses. As usual with Emmerich’s films, there is no expense spared in gussying up the proceedings with gorgeous sets and costumes, but even the scantest knowledge of English history will find the film’s conspiratorial theories somewhere on the level of Obama birthers and UFO fanatics. If there was a clever or boldly worked out execution of its hypothesis, no matter how preposterous, this two plus hours of hot air would be a lot easier to take; its accusations, however, merely amount to portraying Elizabeth as a girl gone wild when young (played by Joely Richardson) and an incapable batty airhead when old (played by Richardson’s mother Vanessa Redgrave), while Shakespeare, we discover, couldn’t have written his plays because he was too trashy to think them up. Beyond such idiotic (and incorrect) class snobbery, its performances are strong but it’s too long and never particularly exciting. For a more detailed takedown of the project, see the terrific post by University of Toronto professor Holger Syme.