Roland Emmerich is best known for ending the world with brio in movies such as “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” With his newest film, “Anonymous,” the German director has taken on a more highbrow, if equally explosive, subject: the true authorship of Shakespeare’s works.
On Tuesday night in a ceremony at Sony Pictures, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles presented Emmerich with its Crystal Quill award for his 10-year effort to make “Anonymous,” a movie due in theaters Oct. 28 that posits the theory that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans), actually wrote the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare.
“It’s a very gutsy thing to do,” Emmerich said in a speech of the group’s decision to award him the prize. “You will learn in the next few weeks. It will not go over that well.”
In Emmerich’s tale of Elizabethan intrigue, from a script by John Orloff, Shakespeare is a subliterate, narcissistic actor providing a front for a nobleman whose literary gifts are considered beneath his class. Vanessa Redgrave plays an admiring and politically vulnerable Queen Elizabeth and Rafe Spall is the puckish Shakespeare. Emmerich said he shot the film with an uncharacteristically thrifty $25 million, an all-British cast and some selectively chosen visual effects to convey the grime and glory of 16th century England.
The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles has already taken heat for acknowledging a movie that discredits its namesake Bard, according to its founding artistic director, Ben Donenberg. “I started getting hate mail,” Donenberg said when introducing the movie. “How dare we take this on? This film… will only propel the debate.”
The Shakespeare Center recognized another Hollywood mover and shaker Tuesday night -- attorney Bert Fields, who wrote the 2005 book “Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare,” in the hours when he wasn’t handling deals for A-list clients such as Tom Cruise and James Cameron.
“The fact that we don’t know if the man from Stratford really wrote these works doesn’t detract from them,” Fields said of the authorship question. “It’s a marvelous mystery.”
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Rhys Ifans as the Earl of Oxford in "Anonymous." Credit: Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc.