Anonymous is the story of Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who may have written some or all of the body of work we know as "Shakespeare."
At this writing, I still haven't seen the movie, but I'm looking forward to it. I've read a smattering of the reviews, though, and many are quite vicious. I cannot help being reminded of reviews of JFK, Oliver Stone's twenty-year-old film that raised questions about the Kennedy assassination – and with it, the ire of the media establishment.
In a word, many (though not all) of the Anonymous reviews say that as far as filmmaking goes, it's a fine effort. But they trash the filmmakers for making it, and endorsing so deluded a notion that someone other than an undereducated burgher could have written the most renowned prose in the English language.
Take Roger Ebert, for example. I respect Roger Ebert. I like his stuff. He calls Anonymous "a marvelous historical film," but covers his ass by observing that "there seems little reason to doubt that [Shakespere] wrote the plays performed under his name."
Memo to Roger: There are actually plenty of reasons to doubt the authorship of William Shakespeare. Read a few of them in Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by John Michell.
In the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore said Anonymous is "all poppycock." And The New Yorker, that urbane East Coast rag, called the film "preposterous fantasia."
Nearly two decades earlier, some of these same publications assailed Oliver Stone as equally deluded for making a movie about a conspiracy to kill JFK. George Lardner led the assault in the Washington Post. He wrote a long article charging "errors and absurdities" and that Stone was "chasing fiction." In Esquire, Robert Sam Anson portrayed director Stone as unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.
Oddly, Ebert was sympathetic to the whole idea of a JFK conspiracy. "Do you know anyone who believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted all by himself in killing Kennedy?" he asked at the time. "I don't."
There's a sense of hands off – that these subjects are not to be critically explored. Accept the established view, and shut up. But just as there were a smattering of defenses of Oliver Stone's JFK, so there are a smattering of mostly tepid defenses of Anonymous. It's early in the game. Perhaps there will be more, and stronger, defenses. But for now, the Stratfordians seem to have the opposition in a powerful headlock.