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Joely Richardson: 'Anonymous' Shakespeare Debate, Mum Vanessa Redgrave And Acting Through Grief

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JOELY RICHARDSON
Joely Richardson stars in 'Anonymous', a historical epic debunking the authorship of Shakespeare's works | Columbia

"Whoever wrote the plays is saying we're all equal, we're all foolish and at moments we're all fabulous."

Now Anonymous star Joely Richardson is weighing into the authorship debate surrounding Shakespeare's professed works, with reasons of her own why it might not be Stratford's celebrated son who picked up his quill.

"Shakespeare's daughters were illiterate, and I just can't believe that a literary genius would not impart some of that to his offspring," she explains.

"“That's the one that sticks with me the most. The argument I don't like is the class argument, where people are saying that only a toff could write the plays as opposed to a commoner."

Richardson, impossibly Amazonian and bright-eyed on this bleak Tuesday afternoon in London, believes there is much to enjoy in the film, whatever the authenticity of the works which inspired it:

"I think ultimately it doesn't matter. It's not a documentary. It is, bizarrely, like one of Shakespeare's plays where everything is turned on its head, the heroes, the villains, vice versa. Elizabeth has gone from the extreme of being Virgin Queen to quite the opposite. It's a real tale with many strains - a love story, the historical background of the Elizabethan court, politics and theatre."

The film also provided Richardson with another chance to act with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, who plays the Queen as an older woman. Redgrave also played Richardson's mother in a recent series of US TV drama Nip/Tuck, and collaboration between the pair is obviously something that comes naturally:

"I hope it doesn't sound pretentious to say we have a little bit of a head start," reflects Richardson. "With two people who have such a common history, background, familiarity with each other, I do think it's a given.

"I find Mum's performance as the older Elizabeth compelling but heartbreaking. I see her as this disillusioned, frail, isolated woman. But there's a moment in the film by a window when it's actually the strong Vanessa (Redgrave) coming through - she always has many different layers."

For Richardson, such appreciation of the others in one of England's great stage and screen dynasties is not something she's always enjoyed:

"My attitude to the family has changed. When I very first started out, I had that arrogance of youth," Richardson remembers now. "And it really is a myth that having a well-known name helps you get jobs. The early part of my career I really struggled, getting turned down again and again. I was in debt, and it was horrible. And then my family hit such highs in their careers, I asked myself what I was thinking going into the same profession.

"Then, in my late thirties, I found my own groove - I’m a ridiculously late bloomer. So finally, I can feel a sort of pride in all my family - Mum, Lynn, Corin, Tasha, my cousin Gemma - because, I think how wonderful that this troop of gypsies can carry on telling stories. So now I've come to love it."

Inevitably, the recognition that comes with success means having to weather personal loss in front of an attentive public, something Richardson has experienced at first hand during the past two years, with the loss of her aunt Lynn Redgrave, uncle Corin, and the sudden death of her sister Natasha in a skiing accident in America. Can acting be a solace in the face of such grief, or impossible because of its poignant association for Richardson?

"People are very divided when they're going through a tough time as to whether work can help," muses Richardson. "I think work really is a life saver, because it carries you forward, which is good.

"And it's more special to me now because of all the people who came before, it's very tribal, and I want to carry on for their sakes."

Anonymous is in UK cinemas from today. Watch the trailer below:

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