In 1613, the famous Globe Theater in London burned to the ground, leaving one of its owners, William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh), without a venue for his plays. Despondent, he returns to his home, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and his wife Anne (Dame Judy Dench) and daughters in “All Is True.”
The opening title, over the blazing Globe Theater with the silhouetted figure of the Bard watching, states that, after the destruction, Shakespeare never wrote another play. There is also little information about the man after the fire. Kenneth Branagh, with writer Ben Elton, creates an imagining of that brief three years before his death in 1616 at just 52.
Kenneth Branagh has starred in and directed a number of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, including “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Othello” and “Henry V.” But, he has never played the Bard himself and the result in an interesting character study of a man the world knows, but knows nothing about.
If you put aside that story is about the iconic William Shakespeare, “All Is True” is about the waning years of an aging man of once-great success who has lost his inspiration and mourns for the son he lost long ago. It is also about his family – Anne and their daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susanna (Lydia Wilson) – and a look into the customs and social mores of England circa 1600, like women being treated as objects and without rights. (Something that we are, sadly, visiting again in our country.)
This is a passion project for the director and star, Branagh, who does a fine job in envisioning Shakespeare’s last years and embodies his character. Dame Judi Dench is terrific as William’s long-enduring and loyal wife who has grown used to his absences and ways. Kathryn Wilder is notable as their second daughter and twin sister of the long dead son, Hamnet (Sam Ellis) and gives a fully-realized performance.
Branagh and his cast and crew do a solid job in creating a fictional look into the final years of the world’s greatest author. And, it feels like this is how it might have happened. I give it a B.
After the Globe Theater burned down due to a failed prop during a performance of William Shakespeare’s (Kenneth Branagh) latest work, the depressed playwright, who would never write another, retired to his home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The family he returns to after decades spent in London isn’t entirely pleased to see him and Shakespeare spends his remaining years repairing relationships with his wife Anne (Judi Dench) and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susannah (Lydia Wilson) as scandal engulfs them in “All Is True.”
Kenneth Branagh’s early fame in film was due to his ability to adapt Shakespeare for the common man, the author’s original audience, so it is interesting to see him play the legend himself thirteen years after his last adaptation. Branagh instructed screenwriter Ben Elton (Britain’s Shakespeare sitcom ‘Upstart Crow’) to start with the truth and look for nuance in Shakespeare’s work and what they have come away with is a writer with keen insight into the human condition who has overlooked his own.
Shakespeare is deemed more ‘a guest’ than family and immediately shut out of his older wife’s bedroom (Anne Hathaway was 8 years older than Shakespeare. Amazingly, Branagh’s quite gotten away with casting Dench, who is 26 years his senior.) He is soon to learn that she has been deeply hurt by love sonnets clearly not written for her, a fact buzzed about in their rural town, and well aware of the irony of being the illiterate spouse of the world’s most famous author. When Will decides to construct a garden for his deceased son Hamnet, Hamnet’s twin Judith informs him that they all grieved ten years earlier, upon the boy’s death. Judith is bitter, her father’s recognition of his son’s ‘brilliance’ displaced - the boy had merely written down the words she recited. His daughter Susannah is unhappily married to John Hall (Hadley Fraser), an anti-theater Puritan, and is publically called out upon his first Sunday Church visit for sneaking into the home of another man at night. As visit from the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) spurs social climbing frenzy, but it’s Will he’s come to see. But when he is revealed as the object of those sonnets, Will must face the realization that it is only his talent which is loved in return.
The film is a family drama, a historical period piece and a character study, sometimes funny, often moving. The film glories in the English countryside, production design being perhaps a bit too perfect for the period. Elton’s cast the demoralized literary icon into a swirl of scandal, bitterness and’ regret and Branagh’s characterization has allowed him to climb back out again, making peace with a family sidelined by genius.
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