There are very few historical records of what Shakespeare got up to on his return to Stratford Upon Avon and during the following 3 years before he died. It is perhaps for this reason that Kenneth Branagh and Ben Elton have chosen this period of the Bard’s life to tell their tale. Unshackled by the restrains of historical accuracy and the need to portray the many dramas and adventures that must undoubtedly have been part of his glamorous London life, they can explore the more existential questions and show us the man rather than the writer. Who was he? What drove him to elevate himself from a commoner, a son of a glover, to the most successful Actor/Playwright, who’s works were performed for the Queen herself? And the most important question of all: How? How could an uneducated man from the country, who had never traveled be capable of writing such beautiful and imaginative tales and poetry?
‘All Is True’ starts with a series of aesthetically pleasing scenes of rural England and in quick succession introduces the main characters and key plots without taking a single breath for almost 15 minutes. Honestly it was a bit exhausting. The pace is slowed down eventually but throughout the film I couldn’t reconcile myself with the lack of satisfactory development of most of the interpersonal relationships.
Except for a brief but wonderful cameo by Ian McKellen as Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton who is assumed to be the “Fair Youth” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and a possible love interest, it is the women in Shakespeare’s life that shine here. Judi Dench is as bewitching as ever, proving once again why she is the queen of our hearts. Her ability to peel away the layers from Anne so lovingly but without hesitation until she stands before us with her soul bared but her strength intact is magnificent to watch. Kathryn wilder is marvelous as Shakespeare’s youngest daughter, Judith. Her portrayal of a young woman imprisoned by her own guilt, the age old resentment she feels towards her father and her yearning to be seen and heard is assertive, yet she retains her sensitivity and humour.
‘All Is True’ is overall an enjoyable enough watch but unfortunately it is let down by it’s main character. After 90 minutes I still felt no closer to knowing who Shakespeare was and how he felt about and dealt with his own genius, the loss of his child, being heralded as the greatest at the same time as being treated as the commoner that he was. For me Kenneth Branagh was not believable as William Shakespeare. As a devout Shakespearian actor/director Branagh seems to be woefully short of insight into the mind of the character he is trying to portray. I found his performance mostly shallow, at times wooden and rather self-indulgent. The biggest cringe moment was when he started quoting Shakespeare as Shakespeare… I can’t tell you how much I wish that hadn’t happened! To me it was a pathetic display of the actor’s self-adulation rather than any real love for the poet.