Dear Being Bess Readers,
A little over a year ago, it came to my attention that a new Elizabethan film was in development. In its early stages, the project had no title and only one certain cast member-Rhys Ifans, an incredibly talented but consistently underrated actor. Besides Ifans being involved, what drew me to track the growth of this mysterious project was the plotline: This would be the first film to ever address the authorship controversy of Shakespeare’s plays. As someone who was never a Straffordian, and in recent years has done personal research on the other candidates for authorship of the Shakespeare canon, this project immediately excited me. Furthermore, Ifans would be portraying Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the very man that I have come to believe wrote the Shakespeare plays, which William Shaksper of Stratford distributed for him. Please understand, I am not an avid conspiracy theorist. In fact, I detest many of the conspiracies concerning the Tudors that distract from the real history. This is the only one that I subscribe to! I have attended seminars and read books concerning the candidates; I also will thank one of my teachers, Ms. Joy, for long ago teaching her students about De Vere and referring to his works as: Hamlet, by De Vere, etc ! I find no convincing evidence for the other proposed candidates, Marlowe or Bacon; once I discovered the overwhelming evidence supporting Oxford, I was convinced. I am in good company: Twain, Freud and countless others backed De Vere!
I was joyful that finally, the enormous amount of evidence supporting the brilliant but troubled Oxford as the true author of the Shakepeare works would make it to the big screen, and captivate and educate a mass audience. While this might have been the original intention of the project, month after month the films original message got more and more diluted. I would follow all the incarnations of the plotline online, and while Oxford was to play a role, the project no longer seemed to center around him. I became more and more disappointed.
Then, finally new life was breathed into the project, giving me renewed hope. The legendary Vanessa Redgrave and the incomparable Joely Richardson, her daughter, were cast to play the young Elizabeth and the elder Elizabeth, in order to span the entirety of the film. As filmmakers noted, both mother and daughter, besides their consummate acting skills, share the same gestures and facial expressions, allowing for a seamless, believable transition between the different periods of Elizabeth’s life. Humorously, Redgrave famously played the proverbial thorn in Elizabeth’s side, Mary Queen of Scots, alongside Glenda Jackson (my favorite Elizabeth!) portraying Good Queen Bess! Because of the Redgrave/Richardson combo, I was once again hopeful for this project, whether or not it centered around Oxford anymore.
Finally a trailer appeared online! The movie was to be called, provocatively, “Anonymous”. I first viewed it on the fabulous Elizabeth Files site, maintained by Claire Ridgeway. The trailer had me captivated; however, the tone of the film was now very dark: Anonymous was now a literary thriller, and the trailer suggested an intense cover-up, a conspiracy that the crown was participating in. This was confusing to me, given my knowledge of De Vere’s life and writing. Where was Queen Elizabeth’s involvement in De Vere’s authorship of the plays and sonnets coming from? There was something about this movie that wasn’t sitting right with me. I had to know more.
A quick Google search later, and I was horrified to learn that Anonymous would not just be about De Vere and Elizabeth; the film would be perpetuating on the big screen the “Prince Tudor” myth. For years, there has been a sensationalist theory that Elizabeth had at least one child by Robert Dudley, and maybe even a total of three secret children by him. In an upcoming article, to be posted around the release date of Anonymous, I will share, in great detail, and with ample evidence, why I believe the “Prince Tudor” myth to be pure fabrication, and a disservice to the reputation of Queen Elizabeth.
Not only was Anonymous going to portray the “Prince Tudor” myth onscreen, it also was to further embellish the theory and make it unbearably scandalous. The new film Anonymous will claim that De Vere is Elizabeth’s son by Robert Dudley. Unbeknownst to her, years later in the film. she has a sexual relationship with De Vere (incest!) and conceives yet another child, this time by her own son! Oxfordians the world over are distancing themselves from this film by issuing public statements of disappointment about Oxford and Elizabeth’s portrayal in the film (See below).
My disappointment over this portrayal is immeasurable. Anonymous will be yet another in a long line of films and books to embellish Tudor sand Elizabethan history for public consumption. This baffles me, as real Tudor history is naturally juicy and scandalous, and requires no modern twists to make it more interesting.
People like Michael Hirst, creator and writer of ShowTime’s The Tudors, attribute their rewriting of historical fact as a kind service to the public, making history less “confusing” for viewers. Are we all really that dumb? Filmmakers like Shekhar Kapur, writer/director of both Cate Blanchett Elizabeth films chalks up his gross misrepresentation of the events in Elizabeth’s life to “artistic interpretation”.
As someone who loves all forms of art and expression, I agree that an artist has the right to interpret as they will, but not when they are supposed to be representing an actual historical figure. There is a responsibility to the figure you are using in your art, and when you sell them short, I feel you have dishonored them, while also letting down the public.
Both The Tudors and Kapur’s films have been seen by millions, forever distorting the view of Elizabeth. This is too bad, as Cate plays a wonderful Elizabeth and many of the actors in The Tudors serried are very good. On the literary front, I blame Philippa Gregory for rewriting Tudor women’s history to the point that her books should merely be categorized as fiction, and not historical fiction. I cannot tell you how many people come to my Elizabeth interpretations and ask about events in Ms. Gregory’s books, which they take as gospel. I spend a lot of time correcting the fallacies in her books, and then imparting the real information. I know will have to get ready to do damage control for Anonymous. I take comfort that my dear Being Bess readers read both historical fiction and actual non-fiction on the Tudors, to acquire a balanced, accurate view of the period.
Would I recommend you see Anonymous? Absolutely not. While Ifans and the Redgrave-Richardson duo are strongly tempting me to go to the theaters, I think we all need to send a clear message to Hollywood that we are smarter than they think, and we will not pay for irresponsible representations of history. That being said, I know I will have to see it at some point, in order to be able to give my informed opinion to the museum visitors where I work; I will probably see it when it comes to DVD, but not before that.
That being said, I will not judge anyone for seeing the film; I love all my readers, and I value your opinions. If you do see the film, please share with me what you thought about it by leaving a comment below this article. If you are as outraged as I am, I would like to hear from you as well! Lets create a dialogue on this site about Anonymous, and the trend in Hollywood and the book industry of distorting history almost beyond recognition!
Read the De Vere Society’s official statement on Anonymous.
To see the trailer, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBmnkk0QW3Q
Official Site for the movie: http://anonymous-movie.com/