John Orloff finally gets his Shakespeare movie ‘Anonymous’ made

Screenwriter John Orloff tried to get his Shakespeare movie made. “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998 was one big roadblock, but Orloff kept at it.

After a 20-year journey, “Anonymous” finally opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.

“Anytime I was in a meeting with someone, I’d pitch it, and one time I was in a room with Roland Emmerich,” says Orloff, during a recent Bay Area visit.

Emmerich, 55, director of sci-fi disaster movies such as “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” may not seem like the best choice for a film about the world’s greatest playwright. But Orloff insists, “It turned into a wonderful friendship and collaboration.”

Emmerich, also recently in town, adds, “For me it was quite a departure, and it was dangerous for a director like me to make this film. I could end up being laughed at.”

After seeing the movie, people will have another topic in mind: Was William Shakespeare the original author of “Romeo and Juliet,” Hamlet” and other plays?  

For Orloff and Emmerich, clues about why Shakespeare could not have been the author include the fact that letters of his never have been found. The movie spells out an elaborate conspiracy theory, shrouded in secrecy, deceit, intrigue, backstabbing and even bloody battles, all told in the best style of Emmerich  and Shakespeare.

In the film, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) is the real writer. He has many reasons for keeping his identity a secret, going back to a prior, steamy romance with Queen Elizabeth.

Rafe Spall plays a quasi-idiotic but wily Shakespeare, who adores his fame; the story is told through the eyes of Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), another writer of the period.

The movie features famous scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, “greatest hits” told with red-blooded passion rather than with a dry, scholarly approach.

“It was very important to get that across. Imagine … there were 2,000 people a play! Every day! That’s when art really spoke to the people,” Emmerich says. “The authorities hated it because they could not control it. And they constantly censored it, but the writers found ways to put things in there, and the people got it.”

Roughly 400 years later, Emmerich faces some of the same kind of reaction. He says, “There are professors in England who hate my guts, and they have a campaign against my film. It happens all over again.”

But he keeps a cheerful attitude: “For me, it’s mainly a great story. There were people who warned me, ‘What will you do when they find a letter from William Shakespeare?’ Well, then I’m out of luck!”



Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Rafe Spall, Sebastian Armesto, David Thewlis

Written by John Orloff

Directed by
Roland Emmerich

Rated PG-13

Running time 2 hour 10 minutes

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