[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
I'd rather have seen a Noises Off-style story about what's going on backstage at the modern-day framing-device production that opens Anonymous -- actors rushing to their places; the stage manager lighting torches with one of those little lighters chefs use to fire a crème brulee -- than the film I got. Of course, I'd rather have seen a root canal than what I got; I recoiled physically from the trailer all "ohhhh no no no no no," because if a buddy/heist movie is Buntnip, a costume drama concerning Shakespeare and the dirty-haired era in which he worked is…whatever the opposite of that is. Red Byptonite?
…Most of the time. Whenever Xavier Samuel is onscreen, it feels like a time machine back to Jersey in the '80s. "The Earl of Southampton"? Try "the Earl of South Amboy" -- I haven't seen a perm that crunchy since Hunka Bunka.
The film isn't awful. Ifans is great, and the movie seems to grab its gears better whenever he's onscreen; the stunt-casting of Richardson as the younger QE and Vanessa Redgrave as the older version actually works, although Richardson is often backed by the script into corners she has to screech her way out of. (The "shocking" plot twist in the third act is probably given to Ifans to play for a reason, and he's fantastic in the scene even though the twist itself is risible.) But it's often dull, and too dour for its own good.
The nomination is for Best Costumes, and while I will give extra credit for Robert Cecil's specialty breastplate that is fitted for his spinal disability, I will take the points back again just as quickly for the Bon Jovi extensions on Samuel.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.