Roland Emmerich takes on Shakespeare. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write, but the Bard is the subject of the latest effort from the director of disaster epics 2012, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow.
The German-born filmmaker has wanted to shoot a movie about one of literature's great conspiracy theories – that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by an aristocrat named Edward de Vere – for more than eight years.
He's finally getting the chance to make the film, Anonymous, thanks in part from a financial contribution from German regional funding agency FFF Bayern. Shooting starts this month in Berlin with a pretty decent cast: Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, David Thewlis as William Cecil, the Queen's closest confidante, and Rhys Ifans as his son-in-law de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford; there's no word yet on who'll play the Bard.
The scriptwriter isn't someone you'd normally associate with Emmerich's modus operandi: John Orloff, whose credits include A Mighty Heart; Legend of the Guardians, director Zack Snyder's animated fantasy being produced in Sydney; and two episodes of HBO's miniseries Band of Brothers. Orloff spent two years on the script before Emmerich came aboard.
Asked what had attracted him to the Shakespeare project, Emmerich told Empire mag, “It's a mix of a lot of things: it's an historical thriller because it's about who will succeed Queen Elizabeth and the struggle of the people who want to have a hand in it. It's the Tudors on one side and the Cecils on the other, and in between [the two] is the Queen. Through that story we tell how the plays written by the Earl of Oxford ended up labelled 'William Shakespeare'.”
This will be the first film Emmerich, a graduate of the University of Television and Film in Munich, has made in his native Germany for more than 25 years.
De Vere wrote, directed and acted in plays around the same time as Shakespeare. Some Oxford scholars believe he used the pseudonym of Shakespeare to avoid breaking the convention against aristocrats publishing poetry and plays and to escape the consequences of the subjects he tackled. They claim Hamlet was an autobiography about the Earl's life and that Cecil was the prototype for the character of Polonius
After completing Anonymous, Emmerich aims to tackle his long-awaited movie based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation books which span about 500 years and focus on humans who are scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, living under the rule of the Galactic Empire. It's being scripted by Robert Rodat, his collaborator on The Patriot. He plans to make the film entirely in CG and 3D motion-capture.