Review: ALL IS TRUE
It’s been 30 years since Kenneth Branagh burst onto the scene as a director with HENRY V. Arguably, no one has ever done more to bring Shakespeare to cinema in a way that has appeal to the masses. It’s only fitting that Branagh take a crack at playing the man behind the plays himself in ALL IS TRUE.
In ALL IS TRUE, Shakespeare returns to his home in Stratford after the burning of the Globe theater in 1613. Although perhaps home is a little too strong a term, since he’s something of a stranger to his own household. Shakespeare may be rich and famous at this time in his life, but he’s without a male heir after his son Hamnet died young, he’s a stranger to his wife Anne (Judi Dench), and not much of a father to his daughters Susannah (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder).
Not much is known about Shakespeare’s life, so it gives both freedom and restraints. Shakespeare didn’t go on to write another great play after the Globe fire, so it’s strictly about him settling things in his private life. And, one suspects that this private life is one imagined in the 21st century more than anything that happened to the real life Shakespeare. Particularly, on how he comes to value the females in his life.
There’s perhaps no great drama in this portrait of Shakespeare. In fact, it’s fair to say that the story is both elegiac and stilted. Nevertheless, there’s passion on display from Branagh. He doesn’t jettison all of his directorial tics, but he certainly displays more restraint than he has in a good while. A lot of the film is shot in natural light and the artificial theatricality is held to a minimum.
Except for when Branagh gives himself full permission to let loose. ALL IS TRUE isn’t a great movie, but it has one undeniably great scene when Branagh sits down with Ian McKellan, portraying the Earl of Southhampton for whom Shakespeare wrote the sonnets. Both great Shakespearean actors get to cut loose with Shakespeare’s words and they really get to the mystery and essence of Shakespeare. Perhaps that scene is a double-edged sword as the rest of the movie never reaches that level of emotion or excitement, but if a movie is worth seeing for one scene alone, ALL IS TRUE passes that test.
Branagh hasn’t made a great movie in a long time. But, ALL IS TRUE is a return to his career through line that had many of his greatest triumphs and remains an enduring source of passion for him. There are still the Dutch angles, Patrick Doyle score, and perhaps a little bit of stunt casting in play with Judi Dench, but there’s also a strong commitment to character and not getting in the way of the emotions. ALL IS TRUE is a modern revisionist take on Shakespeare, but Branagh is doing his best to try to understand Shakespeare as a man rather than an icon and I think it works.
I can still remember seeing HENRY V in 1989 with the crowd applauding at William Shakespeare’s credit. This feels like Branagh joining in and trying to sum up both his career and Shakespeare’s. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely heartfelt.