Emmerich delivers a visually rich Tudor London with perhaps his most adept handling of CG thus far and the story of Rhys Ifans’ Earl of Oxford accosting of playwright Ben Jonson to be the public (and socially acceptable) face of his works is quickly engaging as the world discovery of the works of ‘Shakespeare’ is well told. Despite the throwaway and cartoonish portrayal of Jonson’s fellow playwrights (Christopher Marlowe is a pantomime dame for example which is as unlikely Christopher Biggins writing The Massacre at Paris) Rafe Spall’s buffonish Shakespeare is a necessary mirror to Oxford’s frustrated poet and Emmerich handles the tension between Jonson, Shakespeare and their unlikely patron to great effect.
What happens to complement this strand is less successful as we are tossed back and forth in time to watch as young Oxford woos the young Queen Elizabeth (Joley Richardson, with her mother Vanessa Redgrave portraying the older Queen) before being ostracized from the court – I won’t spoil it for you but what begins as a diverting piece of backstory begins to wrestle with the main thrust of the story and the muddle overtakes the mystery. What works is the world Emmerich recreates, the passion and pleasure to be had from the words of Shakespeare and Vanessa Redgrave is, of course, excellent at giving us a far more vulnerable Virgin Queen than the usual portrayals.
It’s arguable that the Jacobian bookends are an unnecesary device however Emmerich is clearly having a lot of fun not ending the world and delivers an oddly gripping if uneven story of power and legacy, tempered with some misplaced casting (Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson suffers underfoot of the narrative confusion and doesn’t bring enough to the character when the story needs him too) and a not entirely successful confluence of narrative strands. Rhys Ifans chews scenery but that’s appropriate given the theatrical nature of the character and despite the thoroughly unnecessary twist towards the end the central relationship between the Earl of Oxford and the Queen there’s a far better film here than I expected. If Emmerich needs to make a few more end of the world flicks to finance these more personal projects then sign me up for Dinopacalypse and
The usual deleted and extended scenes abound here, none of them adding too much to the show considering that the film is padded a little too much already but the most illuminating feature tells how the world of Elizabethan England as seen in the film is almost completely rendered with CG, augmenting the barest of actual scenery with seamless visual effects. It’s a fascinting look at how far visual effects have come.