THE IMPOSTER SCRIBE
Imagine if the man who we knew and loved as Shakespeare never wrote any of the plays he was famous for. There are some people who believe that and Roland Emmerich, the film’s director, is one of them. However to many Shakespearean scholars, this rumor is unfounded but let’s suppose, shall we? In order to understand why Shakespeare isn’t the author of these plays, we must navigate the political world of the Elizabethan court. It focuses less on the man who was Shakespeare and more on the man who penned the plays and what drove him to give his plays away.
Mostly the film focuses on the political surroundings of Queen Elizabeth’s court and worries over who her next successor will be. It is of particular concern to William Cecil (David Thewlis) who is a longtime advisor to the Queen. He brought Edward the Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower) into his home as a ward when he was a young man but dislikes the fact that Edward has such a passion for the arts. When Edward kills a spying servant lurking in his room, Cecil uses the murder to get Edward to stop pursuing writing and enter into a loveless marriage with his daughter, Anne.
Later he becomes the Queen’s lover, but when she gets pregnant she is sent away to have the baby without Edward’s knowledge.
Thinking he has been cast aside, he has an affair with another woman from Elizabeth’s court and it is made known to William and his son, Robert Cecil, who pass the information along to the Queen. Furious, Elizabeth bans Edward from her court. Then we pick up the story years later when all of our characters are older. Edward knows Elizabeth’s love of words and plays and uses it to get back into her good graces. It’s about his love of writing and bringing about political change.
However, as a nobleman and because of the Cecils, he can only put on his plays anonymously. He entrusts a poor playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to help him get the plays on a stage. They quickly become popular and William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) steps out as the play’s author.
Joely Richardson plays the Young Queen Elizabeth while her real-life mother, Vanessa Redgrave, plays the Older Queen Elizabeth. Both mother and daughter have a similar approach to Elizabeth. There is a jovial, youthfulness to her personality and yet when she feels betrayed, there underlies a fierce temper.
But my favorite character is the movie’s main character. Rhys Ifans is excellent as the Older Edward. To be honest, I’m used to seeing him as the bumbling Spike in Notting Hill or as Luna Lovegood’s kooky father in the Harry Potter series. While I’ve seen him play a couple of dark characters over the years, they didn’t carry as much weight for me as he does here. As the Older Edward, you can see how the years have clearly worn him down and he’s accepted his place as the Earl of Oxford.
Ifans depicts Edward as a master politician who could have been a great king moving a nation with his words, if only he wasn’t married to Anne already. It almost like Edward is worse off being a prisoner in his status than being a poor writer like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe.
However when he decides to reenter politics and to move the nation through his writings, it breathes new life into Edward and he almost becomes young again with this new purpose.
You have to watch the film just to see how it all turns out and what the twist is at the end. The claims the movie makes are preposterous but that’s what a good movie should do. Make us suspend our beliefs for a moment and tell us a good story.