Actor and occasional director, Kenneth Branagh, has returned to his Shakespearean roots, in terms of subject matter at least, with the new release, All is True. It would be too easy to label the film, Shakespeare: The Emeritus Years or Shakespeare in Retirement, the latter obviously a riff on the title of the Oscar winning 1998 film, Shakespeare in Love. In terms of storytelling, it won’t be mistaken for that commercial and critical darling of twenty odd years ago but it’s a decent enough effort if taken on its own terms. That is if one can put aside previous stabs at painting a biographical portrait of the famed playwright.
Kenneth Branagh isn’t only behind the camera here but he’s also in front of it, in the lead role of Williams Shakespeare himself. Branagh is paired with Judy Dench as his wife, Anne, which, on paper at least, looks like the perfect choice for art house movie lovers the world over. And yet the film suffers from a tendency to tell and not show, a big mistake in any film, especially in this one. Characters go through emotional character arcs but spell it out loudly by announcing what’s happening rather than allowing the audience to observe these sort of things more often than not. Perhaps that’s a problem that can be attributed to the film’s writer, Ben Elton, more than its director, in spite of the fact that the duo made a successful journey into similar territory with the 1993 film, Much Ado About Nothing.
In All is True we are given a portrait of a much different William Shakespeare that what is normally painted in cinematic portraits from years gone by. Here he’s a man who’s suffered great loss, both as a result of the death of his son and the disastrous fire that decimated his beloved Globe Theatre. Shakespeare uses these tragedies as a time to reflect and eventually mend fences both personally and otherwise. His fractured relationships with his wife and surviving children have particularly suffered and how he deals with these gives the film some of its better moments.
All is True is best when its splendid cast gets a chance to do what they do best and they more than compensate for any flaws inherent in the sometimes hackneyed screenplay. The best advice is to embrace those performances and let the story take a backseat.
All is True is currently playing at Regal Manor Twin in Charlotte.
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Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in All is True