I mean, it was pretty. And Rhys Ifans wore a lot of eye makeup and made some class-act bitchfaces (and you don’t even have to put eye makeup on Rhys Ifans to make me watch his films). Rafe Spall’s performance as the whiny, drunken, skirt-chasing and thoroughly fictionalized Shakespeare was delightful, though I imagine devotees of the real Shakespeare will take issue with it.
But any movie that portrays Elizabeth I as (first) an irrational, hormone-driven, screaming harpy and (second) a dodderingly incompetent old pawn lost in the machinations of the noblemen surrounding her probably isn’t going to win me over.
For me, taking (wild) liberties in a historical film is much the same as altering details in book-to-film adaptations—I don’t mind if you do it, as long as you do it well. Unfortunately, the frequently-salacious speculations did little more than cheapen a narrative that already felt like it was stumbling to keep up with itself. It wasn’t confusing, it was just so broad and so far from what we know of reality that none of the characters came across as having any sort of heart or soul whatsoever, since by this point they were barely caricatures of their historical counterparts. Even Ifans’ Edward de Vere seemed to spend most of his time stalking around looking bored, superior, or both (not… that I’m complaining about that, necessarily).
Perhaps if Roland Emmerich had zoomed in a little more, focused on a smaller group of characters, and cut away a good half of the speculative subplots and distracting devices (the story was framed twice-over for no reason I could see, and within those frames flashbacks and time jumps were frequent—why?), Anonymous might have been respectable. Indeed, the most redeeming points in the movie were those that showed genuine human connection between people—but those points were unfortunately scarce. I’m giving it a five for those rare moments, for the atmosphere, for Rafe Spall, and for Rhys Ifans. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.