All Is True

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

All Is True
dir Kenneth Branagh
scr Ben Elton
prd Kenneth Branagh, Ted Gagliano, Judy Hofflund, Becca Kovacik, Tamar Thomas
with Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder, Lydia Wilson, Hadley Fraser, Sam Ellis, Jack Colgrave Hirst, John Dalgleish, Sean Foley, Gerard Horan, Eleanor de Rohan
release US 21.Dec.18,
UK 8.Feb.19
18/UK 1h41

branagh dench mckellen

branagh and dench
There's an oddly insistent earnestness to this fictional account of of William Shakespeare's final years. Despite some witty banter and lively characters, Ben Elton's writing and Kenneth Branagh's direction are a little too clever for the story to have its intended impact. Still, the performances are superb across the board, including another stand-out role for Judi Dench.
After the Globe Theatre burns down in 1613, Will (Branagh) returns home to Stratford, where his wife Anne (Dench) makes him stay in the guest room. Being away from his celebrated life as a playwright allows Will to grieve for his dead son Hamnet (Ellis) for the first time, which kind of ignores the very real issues in the lives of his twin daughters: Judith (Wilder) is single and cynical, Susanna (Wilson) has married a harsh Puritan (Hall). As scandals come and go around them, Will wallows in Hamnet's memory, unprepared to face the truth.
Elton's script is packed full of aphorisms from Shakespeare's writings, exploring the idea of truth in a meaningful way. If something is written from the heart is it true? Are the emotions that drive us any less valid if they're founded on falsehood? These are big ideas, and the script thankfully handles them lightly, offering the actors some superbly meaty conversations along the way. Meanwhile, Branagh directs the film with a deep-hued lushness, using natural light and rustic design to augment the themes within the characters.

All of which gives the solid cast plenty to chew on. Under odd prosthetics, Branagh is solid as a man who never gave much thought to his own achievement. As his friend the Earl of Southampton (a wonderfully twinkly McKellen) points out, Will has lived a small life compared to his carousing fellow artists, all of whom partied themselves to an early grave. Actor add flashes of personality everywhere, but Dench provides the heart. Will is so focussed on grief and legacy that he's not very likeable, while Dench's Anne is both soulful and wonderfully matter-of-fact.

Branagh works rather hard to avoid lionising Shakespeare even as he celebrates his every poem and play. The problem is that it's difficult to sympathise with a man who is so dismissive of the women in his life, even if that's an accurate sign of the times (although Anne was 8, not 26, years older than Will). This leaves emotional moments feeling rather flat. And of course there's the issue of authenticity, as the central theme hints that it doesn't matter if this account isn't true.

cert 12 themes, language 13.Dec.18

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall