The latest salvo in the unending war between the Stratfordians, who believe William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was the true author of the Shakespeare plays, and the Oxfordians, who claim they were written by Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, comes from the unlikely hand of Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), a director better known for action than for literary history.
John Orloff’s script, a bizarre mélange of Elizabethan politics, gossip and soap opera, posits that de Vere (Rhys Ifans), a literary genius and onetime lover of the now aged Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), was compelled by his noble station to conceal his splendid playwriting behind a “front.” A dodgy, functionally illiterate actor, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), accepts the offer, extorts a generous pension from de Vere and, in a nasty distortion of history, kills Christopher Marlowe when that playwright learns the truth.
There are some merits in the often laughable drama, particularly in the staging of the plays themselves, but the story descends into a fever dream of botched history, imagining, among other things, an Oedipal relationship between Oxford and Elizabeth. Its vituperative attitude toward the man from Stratford, portrayed as a drunken, whoring wastrel, does little to advance the cause of the Oxfordians. – Pamela Zoslov
(Originally published in Cleveland Scene.)