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The new historical thriller Anonymous has Welsh actor Rhys Ifans in a high profile role playing the Earl of Oxford in a film which presents the courtier as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Anglophenia sat down with Rhys Ifans to explore the issue of Shakespeare’s authorship raised by the film. Joining us for the discussion was actor Jamie Campbell Bower who plays the younger Earl of Oxford in the movie.
ANGLOPHENIA: You know, some scholars say that the basic premise of the film is really rubbish in a way, that Shakespeare did write those plays. What is your response to that?
RHYS IFANS: My response is you know, the important thing is that these plays were written, and the important thing that the film raises is a question around the authorship. There is no convincing body of evidence that proves that William Shakespeare of Stratford or the Earl of Oxford or anyone wrote this huge, beautiful body of work. What is intriguing to us as actors and as an audience is where was this man, who wrote these works?
ANGLOPHENIA: Do you agree with that, Jamie?
JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER: I completely agree. The whole idea that there are two fundamentalist sides both going at each other like bulls is interesting to me. You know, [Shakespeare scholars] are saying that it’s rubbish, and the Oxfordians can also turn around and say, “You’re rubbish.” I think what matters here, and what Rhys has touched on, is the fact that what was produced and what exists now within the modern day is the finest example of English literature and English language that has ever been created, and I think that’s important. If with our film, we can inspire people and educate people to maybe go out and do more research or think about or not believe what they’ve been spoon-fed, that’s incredible.
RHYS IFANS: Or put the plays in a political and historical context, you know, and my kind of secret title for Anonymous is a Spanner in the Complete Works, and if it does that, then it’s healthy, and whoever the author of these plays is or was would be proud to put a cat amongst the pigeons. I think it’s essential that we do that.
ANGLOPHENIA: You have some great scenes in the film and you work opposite Vanessa Redgrave. What was that like? I mean, was that intimidating to be in with?
RHYS IFANS: Well, it was just utter luxury. It’s like you’re acting alongside one of the greatest actors that’s ever lived, so it was just an honor and a privilege and a joy. She’s breathtaking.
ANGLOPHENIA: Do you see the film in a way as a big move forward for you in career terms because you look very different in this film from how you’ve done before?
RHYS IFANS: It is on a personal level, it is a kind of landmark I guess. You know, I’m fully clothed for once, and I’m playing an aristocrat, you know, which I haven’t done before. I don’t know. I don’t even think about it like that. I just think it’s a beautiful movie.
Anonymous is in theaters now.