Ok, so you're making a literary thriller which examines the oft-held conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, did not in fact write all those remarkable works of literature but merely got the credit for somebody else's literary efforts. So who do you get to go behind the camera? One of the Oxbridge set from the UK school of costume drama? One of Hollywood's indie kids? Er no, how about a German director famous for such big-budget sci-fi spectacles as Godzilla and Independence Day?
As it happens, Roland Emmerich turns out to be an excellent choice of director since he's a man with a real passion for his subject who is able to employ just enough digital jiggery pokery to recreate Elizabethan London (notably the famous theatres) without overegging the pudding.
Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff could have chosen any of the usual Shakespearean pretenders to focus on - Marlowe, Jonson, Bacon, etc - but plumped instead for Edward deVere (Rhys Ifans). In their scenario, Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is a bumbling rustic who gratefully accepts the opportunity to be recognised as the author of deVere's works since it gains him fame and fortune. DeVere, meanwhile, is content to stay behind the scenes, silently using his acerbic pen to make political comments about the drama surrounding the Elizabethan succession.
Shot entirely in Germany on a budget of €30 million, Anonymous features a superb cast, many of whom are well known for their Shakespearean work, notably Jacobi and Rylance. Ifans, meanwhile, delivers one of the strongest performances of his career, while David Thewlis again shines. And what a smart move it is to have mother and daughter Redgrave and Richardson playing the younger and older versions of Queen Bess (methinks Michael Redgrave would have approved).
Anonymous won't be to everyone's taste, especially Emmerich fans waiting for an asteroid to strike, but it's a hugely entertaining, well acted drama, that deserves to find a wide audience.