All Is True- This Movie Shakey Rocks
Dir: Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Kathryn Wilder, Jack Colgrave Hirst
Kenneth Branagh has spent a great deal of his career playing Shakespeare, both on stage and on screen. Now, he is finally playing Shakespeare, the man, in the latter stages of his life, in his latest movie as director, a passion project he shot in just 18 days, and is bringing to us groundlings not much after that.
The initial anomaly here is that this is from the pen of Ben Elton, who has spent much of the last three years also writing about Shakespeare’s life, but in the form of his TV comedy Upstart Crow, with the far less versatile (but still endearing) David Mitchell donning the ruff of the Bard.
But this is anything but a comedy. With his Globe Theatre burnt to the ground in London, and with the spectre of Puritanism hovering over everything, William Shakespeare returns home to Stratford-Upon-Avon, in what becomes a deeply moving meditation on grief, age, and understanding. Oh, and with lots of prosthetic noses.
Here, his much neglected older wife Anne Hathaway (an absolutely splendid Judi Dench) awaits him, as do his daughters, one married, one troubled and prematurely bitter. Will, however, is here to mourn the loss of his son, Hanlet, a victim of the plague, the spectre of whom haunts him, in a reverse manner as to how Hamlet’s father haunted the Danish Prince the boy was named for.
There is no denying that Branagh is a commanding – and often under-valued – film director, and he sets his stall out quickly here in this low budget production, reminiscent in someways of his In The Bleak Midwinter from all those years ago. But here, rather than black and white theatrics, he places his camera low to the ground and fills his frame with epic British skylines, which seem intended to give his film a sense of place more than scale.
However, his movie seems at first to falter, with the early section composed of many brief scenes that seem to jump around far too quickly, there to establish context and event, far more than character or heart.
But this is merely a ruse. Two key scenes in the middle of Branagh’s wonderfully sincere movie – which follow closely on each other’s heels – reveal what is really going on here. Using Barry Lyndon-esque candle light, Branagh’s Shakespeare reveals his supressed homosexual longing to a visiting Earl of Southampton – a note-perfect, scene-stealing McKellan, in a protracted moment, that is soon followed by a tour de force performance from Wilder, simply brilliant throughout as Shakespeare’s guilt ridden daughter Judith, as truths are unearthed.
To say that things get even more devastating after that is the undercut the fact that this film is first and foremost an engrossing and deeply felt tale.
All Is True may not always be true, historically, but it finds Elton writing the serious side of Shakespeare, and Branagh finally bringing to life the man whose words he has been bringing to life practically all of his life. And they both do it really rather wonderfully. And movingly.
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