An audacious tale of the final years of William Shakespeare’s life, All is True is superbly written by Ben Elton and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the famous bard.
Picking up on Shakespeare’s life shortly after the loss of his beloved theatre The Globe to a devastating fire in 1613, the film is a delicate blend of the great poet’s volatile family life, and his past literary achievements.
Sporting a rather fetching false nose, Branagh is perfect in the role of the tired and melancholy poet who, languishing in self-pity, has given up on writing after losing his creative will.
There are two major reasons for this.
The first, of course, is the loss of the Globe.
The second, much more serious calamity, was the tragic death of his 11 year-old son Hamnet 17 years earlier, while Shakespeare was away in London.
With good reason to be melancholy, Shakespeare attempts to heal himself by retiring quietly to his expansive and unkempt garden in the leafy English countryside.
For some time, he maintains a testy but resigned relationship with his long-suffering and illiterate wife Anne (masterfully played by Judi Dench) – and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susanna (Lydia Wilson).
Unfortunately, the grief experienced from the loss of Hamnet all those years before keeps resurfacing, and despite Shakespeare’s best efforts to use the healing powers of the garden as a panacea for Hamnet’s loss, he still feels he is fighting a losing battle.
The plot thickens when Shakespeare learns some new information about Hamnet’s death – and this puts even more pressure on him and his already shaky marriage.
A visit from a friendly admirer though – the well-connected and illustrious Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) – does serve to improve Shakespeare’s mood: especially as the debonair Earl was the inspiration for some of Shakespeare’s successful sonnets.
However, despite all of his attempts to remain in relative obscurity, Shakespeare’s influence has spread so far and wide that he must still put up with other visitors wishing to gain his ear: including a naïve, young poet who persists in asking him for advice on how to become a writer.
In reply, Shakespeare brusquely snaps that the only way to become a writer is to write!
Tinged with tragedy, All is True may be part-fiction – but many of the stories behind it certainly hold plenty of truth.
Shakespeare’s daughters both create problems for the troubled bard, with the unmarried Judith remaining angry and conflicted throughout, and her troubled sister Susanna, who is married to Dr John Hall, also suffering tragedy in childbirth.
The performances of Branagh and Dench, however, are more than enough reason to see All is True; particularly Branagh, who revels in the role.
The film’s timeframe is both painful and apt, since it was quite literally the ‘beginning of the end’ for Shakespeare: and marks the culmination of a long and successful literary career, the like of which will surely never be seen again.
Starts Thu 9 May at:
Luna On SX
By Mike Peeters