Normally when the name Roland Emmerich is attached to a film, you can expect to see a blockbuster sized spectacle that pushes the boundaries of what can be done visually on a movie screen. Pictures like 2012, Universal Soldier, and Independence day are prime examples of Emmerich's style so he would be the last person you would expect to take on a political thriller/period piece that tries to bring light to the theory that William Shakespeare was not really the author of the works he is known for.
Prior to seeing this movie, I didn't know much about the controversies regarding who may or may not have written Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and every other tale that Shakespeare is credited with writing. The topic is interesting to be sure, but would this just be a fantastical tale to be easily dismissed or would this turn out to be a credible piece of historical documentation that could change our perception of these works forever.
The story itself is very interesting with lots of twists and turns involving Earls, Dukes, a Queen, politicians, soldiers, authors, actors, and a host of other people mixed in to the story for various reasons. It is engaging although at times confusing and for the most part keeps moving along at a decent pace. There is no fast paced action or sweeping visual artistry here, just straight forward dramatic storytelling that takes place over two, or was it three, different time periods.
This is where the movie gets very confusing as you have to quickly get to know the characters when they are young, when they hit adulthood, and ultimately as they all enter their later years all the while trying to keep track of which of those eras you are watching at any given time. It's pretty clear who the main characters are and each actor has very specific visual cues to help you follow along, but for the most part you feel like you are constantly trying to play a game of who's who rather than being fully engaged in the story.
By the end of the film, you may actually end up feeling more confused than educated about a past that may or may not have happened. If any of this story is true, it would add a good amount of intrigue and controversy to the era that belonged to Queen Elizabeth, but if there is nothing here that is based in fact, then it is really nothing more than a soap opera trying to dress itself up to look like one of the many works of Mr. Shakespeare himself.