By midlandsmovies, Jun 11 2019 07:23PM
All Is True (2019) Dir. Kenneth Branagh
In a text prelude, we are told of a cannon accident which sees the infamous Globe theatre burn to the ground in 1613 and as Shakespeare watches it burn, we are brought back to the 17th century in this new film from director-star Kenneth Branagh.
Branagh’s fascination with Shakespeare began with Henry V (1989), followed by Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love's Labour's Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006) and now in 2019, he’s not just content with adapting his work but playing the very man himself.
After the scene setting intro we return with Will to his family home in Stratford-Upon-Avon and thus begins an unhurried character study about the latter years of The Bard’s life. The film explores his family relationships with wife Anne Hathaway, played with staunch pride by Judi Dench - no stranger herself to Shakespeare (In Love) – and his two daughters. And at the same time, he also mourns the loss of his young son Hamnet.
Like Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 1975) and this year’s The Favourite, Branagh has favoured chiaroscuro cinematography for the night scenes where small and wooded Tudor houses are lit by candles and fireplaces using strong contrasts of light and dark. The bright scenic daytime scenes see an elder Shakespeare leave his literary ways to focus on his garden. And again, the locations and lighting are fantastically cinematic – and with Mary Queen of Scots and this, fans of the Tudor period (like myself) are getting spoilt this year.
The picturesque and quaint countryside scenes, whilst admirably filmed, don’t host a particularly strong narrative and the drama contained within claustrophobic dimly-lit rooms is small in nature itself. Although probably intentionally so. Written by Ben Elton, the film’s narrative drive focuses on Shakespeare’s doubts and concerns about his family, specifically his son.
Dench as his wife cannot read and laments Shakespeare’s absence from her in his heyday, and his constant digging in the garden serves to show him digging up parts of his offspring’s past. And at times, the film seems to find its voice in the silence between words rather than lots of dialogue or exposition.
As doubt is cast on his son’s poems and the circumstances of his death, the issue of not being able to write at all poses larger questions about authorship in general – a subject of much controversy and debate regarding Shakespeare’s own work over the years. Thus, as he is haunted by the loss of Hamnet, Branagh is stately and stalwart as Shakespeare but the script isn’t afraid to shove a few lewd and crude lines his way during his family spats. Also thrown a bone is Sir Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton who gets his chance to shine with a stellar recounting of Shakespeare’s verse in the middle of the film.
The movie really is much more about a person’s legacy and the “bosom of his family” rather than any analysis of the plays, poems and sonnets of his folio themselves. For that you need to watch Ben Elton’s parody Upstart Crow which pulls apart the myths surrounding the great writer. Here we simply focus on the introspection undertaken by Branagh's brooding Bard.
The aforementioned slow pace may put passing fans off but like the Bard’s greatest hits, Branagh’s All is True includes history, comedy and tragedy – and measure for measure, is an old-fashioned, amiable and uncomplicated chamber-piece with much to recommend. ★★★½