The film aims to explore the wildly controversial theory that William Shakespeare's plays were not written by the Stratford bard by bestowed on him by Edward deVeer, 17th Lord of Oxford who's immediate entourage disapproved of staged entertainment. And it is indeed an interesting theory due to the fact that so little is known or tangibly proven regarding Shakespeare and many of his contemporaries; after all, if there is truth to it even in the slightest, wouldn't the actual author deserve that we at least consider the alternative?
The truth is I was expecting a low budget Emmerich film, low as in independent cinema low. $30M isn't it unless you compare it to Godzilla, and the man just can't shake his tendency for brain-light entertainment which he scores on here much more than he did with a few of his more recent grand spectacles. The sets and costumes are absolutely gorgeous, same for the locations and photography for which a keen eye for the grandiose did wonders. It's a lively fable with palpable atmosphere which sweeps you along and never feels the weight of its 130 minutes.
The film however trips itself up when it stops in its tracks and tries to argue its case, which both disappoints and fails at every turn. There are actual historical facts here, but the story presented is at times so lurid that any truth goes spectacularly unnoticed, or we simply don't care for it. Nobody truly believes the "Virgin" Queen Elizabeth went her whole reign without getting some, but here she is said to have had an incestuous affair with her own bastard son, Edward deVeer himself, with whom she had another bastard son. At which point I was expecting "Edward" to rip his shirt off and show everyone he sparkles under sunlight...
|"And zhen Shakespeare becomes a giant reptile and fights weet ze aliens..."|
And what about Will himself, here presented as a grotesque buffoon so decidedly gutter-bound that he can't even spell his own name let alone write it; how could anyone even then believe THAT is the greatest English-language playwright of all time? The actors all seem to know this is a 90-minute piece of tabloid gossip, and accordingly ham it up with no restraint. Can you blame them?
Kudos to the mother-daughter team of Joely Richardson and the great Vanessa Redgrave playing two stages in the life of Queen E, both setting the tone for overindulging in what little they were given to work with as quality of dialogue and intrigue. Rhys Ifans still manages to show a side of him no one suspected when meeting his flatmate to Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, and Rafe Spall (Timothy's son) takes the cake in pulling all the stops to make his Shakespeare caricature deliciously deviant. A big raspberry however blown in the general direction of Derek Jacobi who once again shows up for a quick paycheck-only part.
|"Dear Santa, about that serious role I asked for last year..."|
No answer will be found here regarding whether Shakespeare was a Fraud, but as far as having a good time with a big buttery bag of popcorn, mission accomplished. It's a fun film but it won't win it's central cause any further support, except maybe from the demographics who consider Fox News to be a credible source of information (insert sound of thousands of rednecks screaming for my head).
Final Word: 6/10