All Is TrueA
by Brandon Thomas
Kenneth Branagh and William Shakespeare have become synonymous with one another in the world of cinema. As a director, Branagh has made five of The Bard’s plays into movies, and in many of them, he’s joined the cast. It’s fitting that Branagh finally ends up playing Shakespeare himself in All is True.
In 1613, Shakespeare’s beloved Globe Theatre burned to the ground. Left without a homebase to stage his momentous plays, William Shakespeare returned to his country home. There, he’s “greeted” by the wife (the always amazing Judy Dench) and daughters he left behind while making his name in London. Away from the stage, Shakespeare struggles to come to terms with the legacy he’s created. The loss of a child haunts him, and the inadequacy instilled in him through his father bubbles to the surface and forces the famous playwright to face a life of personal mistakes.
Shakespeare was known for having his distinct tragedies (MacBeth, Othello) and comedies (Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It). The beauty of All Is True is how well Branagh intertwines both genres. The tragedy of losing a child never threatens to overwhelm the film nor do some of the “sillier” elements, such as the fascination a neighbor’s dog finds in William. The balance in tone doesn’t come easy, but it certainly keeps the film interesting.
There’s a casualness to All Is True that is very inviting. It’s a film that’s never in a hurry, but also doesn’t overstay its welcome. Scenes are allowed to breathe in a way that feels like you’re watching an intimate stage play—the epitome of this being a breathtaking scene between Branagh and Sir Ian McKellen. It’s a scene that consists mostly of tight close-ups, set in one location, and it’s riveting.
It’s no surprise that Branagh nails his portrayal. His William Shakespeare is a man that understands his legacy even if he hasn’t completely come to terms with it. Without his work, he’s a man that’s chasing happiness—a happiness he’s never been able to find as a husband or father.
By humanizing the world’s most famous playwright, All Is True tries to move past the legend of William Shakespeare and comment on the inner workings of the man himself.