If anyone had any doubt still that Kenneth Branagh loved Shakespeare, All Is True thoroughly dismisses it. An obvious passion project, it’s a joy to behold Branagh’s affection for Shakespeare – both man and works – on screen.
All Is True fully commits to the recognised Shakespeare ‘look’, and is as traditional with the film as it is the figure. From the high forehead, pointed goatee and striking nose of Shakespeare, to the neat, character-driven narrative and intimate framing, the film feels old-fashioned – but not in an unwelcome way.
All Is True pulls the playwright’s wife and burdened children more firmly into focus, and details his retirement in Stratford. To a modern audience, this is where Shakespeare belongs but to his contemporaries, including family, it’s made clear that he is considered a creature of London and its playhouses. His son-in-law is also an intriguing foil to Shakespeare, being a rampant Puritan – but also heir to his fortune.
Alongside tackling the issues of familial estrangement – Shakespeare is a guest in his own home – the film also contemplates the weight of legacy within a lifetime, and Shakespeare’s questionable standing as a gentleman, despite his genius. The only schlockiness to address is Shakespeare’s occasional quoting of himself… but presumably he wouldn’t just ignore said genius?
Dench and McKellen are 20 years too old for their parts as Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare’s suggested lover, the Earl of Southampton, but their presence and power are commanding. They seem natural fits for this project.
Despite half-expecting Baldrick references – it’s Ben Elton’s screenplay – All Is True is sincere and thought-provoking. It poignantly addresses the gap between Shakespeare and his family, emotionally and intellectually, as well as taking definite stances on Shakespeare mythology. Plus, the cast is such stuff as dreams are made on.
CAST: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder, Lydia Wilson, Hadley Fraser, Jack Colgrave Hirst
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
WRITER: Ben Elton
SYNOPSIS: A look at the final days in the life of renowned playwright William Shakespeare.