Sony Pictures Classics | Release Date: December 21, 2018
5.6
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Bertaut1Feb 21, 2019
A strangely formless and insubstantial love-letter to Shakespeare

Directed, produced by, and starring Kenneth Branagh, All Is True is a pleasant enough film obviously born from great reverence, but is also clumsily episodic in structure, and
A strangely formless and insubstantial love-letter to Shakespeare

Directed, produced by, and starring Kenneth Branagh, All Is True is a pleasant enough film obviously born from great reverence, but is also clumsily episodic in structure, and relatively free of conflict, focusing instead on non-incident. By the very nature of the years during which it takes place (1613-1616), Ben Elton's screenplay is full of interpolations and suppositions, some of which are interesting, but many of which don't work. There's a much better film hidden in the contours of All Is True, a darker story examining Shakespeare's (Branagh) psychology; his inability to process the death of his son Hamnet (Sam Ellis), his guilt over the fact that he put his career ahead of his family, his possible misogyny, his obsession with his legacy. These issues are in the background, but they are not the focus, and whilst All Is True is perfectly fine, it's also perfectly forgettable.

Possibly a palette-cleanser for Branagh, allowing him to return to the familiarity of Shakespeare, after several years working on relatively impersonal projects, and with two blockbusters on the way, All Is True begins on June 29, 1613, as Shakespeare watches the Globe Theatre burn to the ground, after a canon misfired during a performance of All Is True. Devastated, he retires and returns home to Stratford. Coldly received by his wife Anne (Judi Dench) and youngest daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder), he gets a slightly better welcome from his eldest, Susanna (Lydia Wilson). Still mourning the death of Judith's twin, his only son, who died from plague aged 11 in 1596, Shakespeare decides to grow a garden to honour his memory. However, he must also try to deal with Judith's hatred for him, stemming from her conviction that he believes the wrong twin died.

Easily the best in the film, involves Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) visiting Stratford. Discussing his identity as the "fair youth" to whom Shakespeare addresses the first 126 sonnets, Shakespeare quotes in its entirety Sonnet 29, with Branagh reading it as an agonised ode to an impossible love. Southampton then also recites the poem, with McKellen's intonation changing it into a celebration of the power of art to transcend such foolish distractions as love. It's a beautifully shot, incredibly well acted, and nuanced scene that, if it accomplishes nothing else, serves to remind us just what talented actors can do when reciting the exact same text.

One of the film's main themes is, of course, family, with Elton's script focusing on how resentful Anne and Judith have become of Shakespeare. We don't know a great deal about the real Judith, so much of Elton's characterisation is speculative. The film's Judith is a protofeminist, a brilliant woman railing against the narrow-minded patriarchy her father endorses. The likelihood of this being the case is slim at best, but Wilder is excellent in the part and makes Judith much more believable than the character has any right to be. The film acknowledges that Shakespeare was a neglectful father and husband, and never fully gets behind him as he defends himself by citing the cultivation of his genius. However, by the end, even he doesn't believe this himself, coming to understand the price his family paid for his greatness.

However, there are some considerable problems. First and foremost is the script, which employs an extremely episodic organisational principal, with scene after scene addressing one and only one issue at a time, ensuring each issue is cleared before moving onto the next. Scenes often involve the characters saying only what is necessary to get to the next scene, with little room to breathe, almost as if we're watching a "previously on" montage of a TV show.

The casting is also problematic. Now, don't get me wrong, I love Dench and McKellen as much as the next man, but that doesn't change the fact that they are both badly miscast. Both play their characters as elderly, but in 1613-1616, Anne (played by the 84-year-old Dench) was 57-60, and Southampton (played by the 79-year-old McKellen) was only 40-43. Additionally, Anne was six years older than Shakespeare, but Dench is 26 years older than Branagh, and it shows, serving only to distract from the content.

As a Kenneth Branagh fan (and a fan of Ben Elton's Upstart Crow (2016)), I was disappointed with All Is True. The film tries to strike a balance between a laid-back and wistful story about a retired writer, and a study of filial grief. Some elements unquestionably work; the Southampton scene, Shakespeare's struggle to reconcile his genius with the personal cost of that genius, Judith's resentment of Hamnet. But a lot doesn't work. It's an inoffensive and perfectly fine film, but given the director and the subject, it could, and should, have been so much better.
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3 of 3 users found this helpful30
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8
GreatMartinMay 24, 2019
As it seems only the British can do, there are 2 scenes in "All Is True" that are master classes in acting which would be expected from Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen but a much younger actress, Kathryn Wilder, gives no quarterAs it seems only the British can do, there are 2 scenes in "All Is True" that are master classes in acting which would be expected from Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian McKellen but a much younger actress, Kathryn Wilder, gives no quarter in being their equal in one of the most important scenes of the movie.

In the particular scene I am referring to William Shakespeare (Branagh), his wife Anne (Dench) and one their daughters Judith (Wilder) are exposing family truths as the screenwriter Ben Elton imagines they would speak yet bringing it in to today's world. When I had time to think about it later I could just imagine a theatre audience seeing it on stage in a play written today and stunning them.

The other scene, between Shakespeare and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, (McKellen) looks into the supposedly love affair between them when both were young men and Shakespeare wrote his sonnets. At one point, without changing a thing, Shakespeare starts talking by reciting one of his sonnets and the Earl recites it back to him. It is as if the two men, not acting, are having a conversation expressing their feelings. Neither sex nor nudity is involved yet you believe you are seeing and hearing both!

While very little is known of Shakespeare's home life, such as the death of his son, Elton presents a plausible story of what may have taken place for the 3 years that Shakespeare returned home to family life after spending most of his life alone in London at the Globe Theatre which had burned down in 1613.

The only fault, which made it slow moving for only a 100 minute film, is the director's holding on to many unnecessary and lingering nature scenes with the director being Kenneth Branagh.

"All Is True" might not all be true but it is certainly worth seeing for the acting alone, which shouldn't be but will probably be forgotten at award time.
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2 of 2 users found this helpful20
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0
AuntieMax3Jun 30, 2019
What an everlasting piece of crap. The writing is HORRIBLE, on the level of a bad Hallmark card. I can't believe Branagh did this. He must need money.
0 of 1 users found this helpful01
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6
TVJerryJun 8, 2019
A heavily-made-up Kenneth Branagh stars as Shakespeare, who returns to his home after the Globe Theatre burns down. Once there, attempts to deal with the death of his only son, while trying to mend the relationships with his wife (Judi Dench)A heavily-made-up Kenneth Branagh stars as Shakespeare, who returns to his home after the Globe Theatre burns down. Once there, attempts to deal with the death of his only son, while trying to mend the relationships with his wife (Judi Dench) and remaining daughters. This film captures the period with beautiful cinematography, a quiet pace and sometimes extended wide shots of dialogue. The sluggish tempo allows plenty of time to absorb the mise en scene, but it also strains interest. The performances are interesting and the story presents a fascinating part  of The Bard's life, but the objective approach (thanks partially to director Branagh) keeps the film from ever grabbing hold. Expand
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4
bigley43Jul 8, 2019
Typical Branaugh self-indulgence. Beautiful filmed, but excruciatingly slow in many places. Many shot have little to do with the plot, but revel in their beauty. Stratford seems to be in some sort of English paradise, except for oneTypical Branaugh self-indulgence. Beautiful filmed, but excruciatingly slow in many places. Many shot have little to do with the plot, but revel in their beauty. Stratford seems to be in some sort of English paradise, except for one recurrent market scene focusing on a tray of fish. Interiors seemed accurate, but much to polished and clean. The interpretation of the known facts about Shakespeare and his family were plausible, pretty much, but clearly one possible interpretation. I did like the interpretation of the "second best bed." Expand
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