All is True (Kenneth Branagh, 2018) wr. Ben Elton
The final days of William Shakespeare after his retirement to Stratford.
Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Lydia Wilson, Hadley Fraser, Jack Colgrave Hirst, John Dagleish, Sean Foley, Gerard Horan, Sam Ellis
An opening card informs that the title of the film was an alternative title for Henry VIII, a late play, during one performance of which a prop cannon ignited the theatre and the Globe burnt down. Partly as a result - in this movie - Shak retires to his country home. I inclined to think that Ben Elton's use of this title for the film is intended to draw attention that its story is in fact invented.
Bardolatry is on display in the reception of this film. Second in holiness only to the Bible/Koran is the Shakespearean canon, and woe betide anyone who treats the author with less than reverence, so critics (see below) have tended to emphasise its fictionality, and ignored what a fine piece of cinema it is.
Zac Nicholson's cinematography is a feature. It's most noticeable in the many scenes apparently shot lit only with candles and firelight. This would not have been possible a few decades and I'm guessing that the film was on high definition video, perhaps especially adapted for low-lit films. But I know nothing, and am only guessing, to draw your attention to those scenes. However, it is all beautifully shot, including the lush, English exteriors, notably those around Hamnet's pool.
Production still, a shot which does not appear in the film
The movie, written with heavy hand and sodden-witted offense, has a few too many 400-years-the-wiser admonitions it wants to deliver about the way that Shakespeare, for all his gifts at creating rich and well-rounded characters for the stage, may have been a one-dimensional old misogynist in reality. 'I don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story,' he is made to say, which is a line more often attributed to American author Mark Twain, but the movie’s agenda is clear: Fifteen years after appearing in Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, actor-cum-screenwriter Ben Elton has taken the liberty of manipulating this penultimate chapter of Shakespeare’s life (his death is relegated to closing text) to suit whatever points he wants to make. The result is a revisionist fiasco, too dense with Shakespeare allusions for casual moviegoers, and too fast and loose with the facts for those who know a thing or two about the man. In short, All Is True takes the English language’s most gifted dramatist and reduces his sunset years to a sloppy soap opera. Peter DeBruge, Variety.
All Is True is sentimental, theatrical, likable – and unfashionable. There’s a cheekily imagined backstory for Shakespeare’s famous 'second-best bed'. It doesn’t go for grand gestures or big subversive laughs, like John Madden’s romance Shakespeare In Love (1998) or Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare-was-a-fraud caper Anonymous (2011), or in fact Elton’s own rather brilliant and under-recognised TV Bardcom Upstart Crow which features David Mitchell as Shakespeare, Liza Tarbuck as Anne Hathaway and Helen Monks as his stroppy daughter Susanna. Upstart Crow boldly tackled the death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet at the age of 11 and Elton reopens that wound now, making it the emotional centre of his film. There are certain structural similarities between All Is True and Upstart Crow, although William and Anne are more muted and autumnal here. The stroppiness of the daughter – in this case Judith, sister of Susanna – continues unabated, but is repurposed dramatically. Dench is enigmatic and stoic as Anne; and Kathryn Wilder is an angry and unreconciled Judith. She has some serious issues with her absent patriarch. Some may prefer Upstart Crow. Peter Bradshaw, Guardian.
... the stakes presented are decidedly low. To which of his two daughters will he leave his fortune, the one married to a puritan or the one married to a wine merchant? Will he ever fully mourn Hamnet’s death from years ago, apparently from plague? Will Shakespeare get over the fact that his son was just an average 11-year-old kid and not a budding genius when he died?
It’s hard to care about the answer to those questions when the film carries such little psychological depth and even less storytelling creativity, presenting Shakespeare as looking no different to how a particularly hyped 11th grade English teacher might appear after visiting a high-end costume rental. The shallowness of the rendering makes you deeply doubt the accuracy of the film’s name, an alternate [alternative] title for Henry VIII.
Forget all of it being true; I would have settled for some of it being interesting. Oliver Jones, Observer.
'I never let the truth get in the way of a good story,' Shakespeare tells us. Purists may have a field day with All Is True, and it does have a tendency to lag, but I found myself thinking about it days after I’d seen it. Like the superior Emily Dickinson vehicle Wild Nights With Emily, it bypasses the worthy immortal regard earned by the writer’s works and lets us see the humanity—and the drama—beneath that surface. Odie Henderson.
Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 9 Jun, 2019 | Now: 12 June, 2019