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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


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 20 2015 05:28PM

Macbeth (2015) Dir. Justin Kurzel


Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Elizabeth Debicki.

113 mins.


Shakespeare’s tragedy of Macbeth is notoriously known for its bloodthirsty power, and as for Justin Kurzel’s new 2015 adaptation, bloodthirsty attitude is certainly still pertinent in this adapted tale. This is a story about a power seeking warrior, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), and his deceitful journey in becoming King. A rather poignant scene of a child’s funeral is our first glimpse into Macbeth’s wretched world. It is within this scene that we realise that the child is in fact Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s (Marion Cotillard) deceased son. This is the beginning of the decline of Macbeth.


One could argue that we already have our fair share of Macbeth film adaptations, most famously those of Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles. But move over and make way for Justin Kurzel as this new version opens up and expands this Shakespearian tragedy in the most monumental of ways. The expansive landscapes of the Scottish highlands are the backdrop for the tale. You would expect to see such scenery in films such as Lord of the Rings, not for a play originally confined to a Shakespearian stage set. This makes for some of the most astonishing and inconceivable visuals. Another reoccurring pictorial throughout the film is the battlefield glow of orange fire, which ironically is a warming tone. This glow seems to signify the burning thoughts and deaths that cause the downfall of Macbeth’s life, as this hue seems to follow Macbeth. Also, Kurzel’s use of slow motion prolongs the absolute brutal happenings in the reality of Macbeth’s world and produces us with a terrifying sense of chaos.


Director Justin Kurzel’s debut film ‘Snowtown’ was also an adaptation. It was only released in 2011, making Kurzel a relatively new director to the scene, but he brought with him an ability to deal with rather controversial and chilling subjects. Snowtown deals with many of the main topics that also appear in Macbeth, such as murder, deception and grief, which may have set Kurzel up for Macbeth; a story with such an evil main character. Although Snowtown wasn’t the greatest of successes, it set Kurzel up for bigger and better endeavours and this is unquestionably shown in Macbeth. Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.


Michael Fassbender is an outright natural when it comes to playing the infamous and evil protagonist of Macbeth (with the help of a little war paint, of course). He describes the anger, sadness and mental deterioration of Macbeth with such precision that you feel as though you are sharing his emotions throughout the film; the confusion, the hatred and the sorrow. The same can also be said for Marion Cotillard’s mystifying representation of Lady Macbeth. Her beautiful prowess is almost hypnotic, a feeling also shared by Macbeth himself. Her deceptive ways almost become understandable as we are drawn into her illusory life. Her monologue to that of her departed child is hauntingly harrowing.


Overall, with scenery fit for a King and enough bloody battles to satisfy the mind of even the most corrupt and ferocious warriors something wicked this way comes to a cinema near you. Dedicated Shakespeare fans may unlike the way Kurzel has cut certain famous quotes and characters from the new adaptation, but as a film with enough rigour to satisfy many tastes, it strives. Love it or hate it, but what’s done is done.


U.K release date: October, 2nd 2015.


7.5/10 Zoe Heslop


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