Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **


Release Date: 10-30-2011 (USA)

Runtime: 130 min.

Period: Elizabethan England (late 1500s)

Costume Designer: Lisy Christl

Anonymous is a film that asks the question, “What if Shakespeare’s works were actually written by someone else?” If that question irks you, you will hate this movie. If you come into it with an open mind, you will find a beautiful movie, directed by (kind of surprisingly) Roland Emmerich. Surprisingly, because there are no apocalyptic threats to mankind, and because it is a sensitive and very interesting answer to the question posed by the film.

Jamie Bowers as Young Edward, Earl of Oxford

Jamie Campbell Bower as Young Edward, Earl of Oxford - note the blood red sleeves

I understand that this film has been a passion project of Emmerich’s for many years, and I am glad that he finally was able to get it made. Does it contain anachronisms? Sure. Are the dates in the timeline inconsistent at best or incorrect at worst? Perhaps. But if you look at the film as a movie, not as a history lesson, it is very, very enjoyable. I loved it. It flips between flashback and “real time” and 2011, so it’s a bit confusing at first, but here it goes…

Briefly: the Earl of Oxford, Edward (grown-up Edward, played by Rhys Ifans) has been writing poetry and plays for a long time, much to the disgust and chagrin of his wife’s puritanical family. Young Edward (Jamie Campbell Bower) is forced to marry her because he sort of accidentally kills a guy, and Edward’s guardian (and confidant of the Queen) William Cecil (David Thewlis) blackmails him into marrying his daughter so that he wouldn’t get in trouble.

One thing leads to another, and young Edward has an affair with young Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson). She ends up pregnant, and has the baby somewhere in secret. That baby grows up to be the Earl of South Hampton (Xavier Samuel).

Grown Edward hires young playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to produce the plays that he, Edward, has written, and to take credit for writing them. Edward’s problem is that it would totally disgrace his wife’s family if it was learned that he wrote them – the rules of 1588 are a lot different from today, kids. Anyhoo, Ben Jonson accepts, but when the audience starts screaming for the playwright after a spectacular performance, who comes out to take a bow but the rogue-ish, illiterate, party boy Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). The crowd goes wild. Shakespeare is suddenly famous.

There is a lot of intrigue that ensues about who will be the next ruler of England, and theoretically that person should be a descendant of the queen, but since all of her children were illegitimate (and therefore “bastards” in that time, not technically qualified for the throne) there was a big uproar about who should succeed her.

I am not an English historian, and the discrepancies in the timeline and the artistic license didn’t bother me too much. This is a film, a work of fiction, and I thought it worked well as such. The details will be argued, criticized and questioned for years to come. This whole “Earl of Oxford is really Shakespeare” theory is akin to “Who really shot JFK” in this country. There are a million conspiracies, and we might never know what actually happened.

Rhys Ifans as Edward, Earl of Oxford - note the blood red sleeves years later!

That said, the costumes are MAGNIFICENT. I was just astounded. My head was spinning. There were thousands of background players, all dressed perfectly. The streets were calf-deep in mud, and you could practically smell the horse poop. It was beautiful.

Earl of Sussex, Earl of South Hampton & Edward, Earl of Oxford

The color palette was awesome. It was a nice blend of dark greys, taupes, browns, tans, burnt gold, with an occasional pop of blood red. Lovely.

William Cecil and Queen Elizabeth

Here you see WIlliam Cecil, who, with his son Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg) almost invariably wears black.

Queen Elizabeth with Robert Cecil

And here, at William Cecil’s funeral, you see the (grown) Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) wearing funereal black with a touch of that blood red. Nice work!

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth

The headpieces worn by Elizabeth were superb. It was excellent work – it felt appropriate, not attention-grabbing or distracting. I thought that the fine line between showy and realistic was very well realized.

Joely Richardson, Young Queen Elizabeth

The thing that just made my jaw drop, though, was the sheer number of people in this film, and how they were all dressed appropriately to their station, beautifully accessorized, wonderfully aged… it was truly amazing.

Here, you can see the queen’s court – look at all of those people, and look how magnificently they are dressed.

Now look at Shakespeare crowd-surfing. Look at those groundlings!  Can you smell them?

Astoundingly beautiful costume, isn't it?

This movie is so beautiful. From a costume point of view, it is truly a remarkable achievement. And as a film, I enjoyed the performances from these top-notch actors so much.  Rhys Ifans is superb. I look at the film as fiction, and as a movie, a story. You might hear criticism of this film, but the critics’ major beef with the film is about the controversial theory it poses, not about the actual film itself. It’s interesting.

I hope you can see it on a big screen. It definitely deserves to be seen on a big, big screen, so you can see all of the beautiful details. Hats off to Lisy Christl and her entire crew for pulling this off. I know they didn’t have the budget of a “normal” Roland Emmerich movie, but they just killed it. I am so happy for them!!!


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