Kenneth Branagh, once touted as the new Sir Lawrence Olivier has had his own ups and downs with respect to theatre and the film industry, In his latest venture which could be described as filmed theatre, ALL IS TRUE is an admirable and entertaining piece with Branagh himself in the director’s chair giving himself the honour of playing the Bard himself.
ALL IS TRUE is a wry drama depicting Shakespeare, the man, warts, glory and all in his last days with the film’s closing titles educating the audience on the history of his offspring and family. Unlike the recent biopic TOLKIEN, this film’s subject and his work flow very smoothly into each other. His words that are written in his plays also flow freely in his daily dialogue with his family and friends.
The film begins with him and a boy who insists that Shakespeare tell his story. The boy achieves his request as the boy turns out to be the Shakespeare’s re-imagination of his dead son, Hamnet, who apparently died at the age of 11 of the plaque when the father was away on business. “We are stuff that dreams are made of…. and life is rounded up with a sleep,” one of the most used quotations from THE TEMPEST, is used here in voiceover.
The film follows Shakespeare’s return to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he hopes to reconnect with his family after being pretty much absent for 20 years. The decision occurs after disaster strikes when his Globe theatre that burns to the ground in London. Devastated and resolved never to write another play, Shakespeare heads home, where his wife, Anne (Judi Dench), 10 years older than him and daughters (Kathryn Wilder and Lydia Wilson) are hardly pleased to hear that he intends to stay. Also still haunted by the death of his 11-year son Hamnet a few years back, Shakespeare decides to build a garden in his honour. Then family secrets and scandals begin to surface.
The film is called ALL IS TRUE for two reasons. Firstly, it is the alternate name of the play HENRY VIII that was perfumed at the Globe Theatre in London when it was totally burnt down. The words also imply that all that transpires on the life of the Bard in Branagh’s film is true.
ALL IS TRUE contains some magnificent acting. Branagh is excellent as the Bard looking like the man in the ‘Chandos’ portrait. Judi Dench is always superb and she plays his stern wife with hardly a smile on her face. David Thewlis has a cameo a lengthy scene with Shakespeare.
It is good to know more of the story of Shakespeare’s real life, which many are unfamiliar with.
The film feels stagey because the actors speak in Shakespearean prose and act as if in the theatre. Even though Branagh takes the film out in the open many times with stunning cinematography by Zac Nicholson, ALL IS TRUE still feels like a play. Still this is a film for all Shakespearean fans. I would recommend it.