William Shakespeare. The Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon and who is regarded as the greatest writer in all of English language for all time. But who was he really? What drove him? And what did he do with himself when he ceased to create? What does any artist do with themselves? These are the questions that Sir Kenneth Branagh seeks to answer in his beautifully crafted and expressive portrait of the bard’s life in All Is True.
When it comes to knowing Shakespeare there is no actor more passionate about the great author’s work than Sir Kenneth Branaugh. You only need to look at his illustrious filmography with works that include Henry V, Othello and Hamlet to understand that this is an actor who truly revers the great Shakespeare and here in All Is True, Branagh attempts to capture the life force of this great creator. Set following the events that saw his famed Globe Theatre burn to the ground, Shakespeare retires to his countryside home of Stratford-upon-Avon and is content to life out the rest of his life in relative anonymity, but there’s one thing he simply can’t escape: himself.
This quite and reflective canvas offers Branagh great space to examine Shakespeare and his transformation into the author is simply incredible to behold. Through make-up and costume he stops being Branagh and instead becomes Shakespeare and his performance is driven by a crotchety personality that now detests celebrity and talent in all it’s form. With All Is True Branagh works to dissect who this man is and how his public persona and personal talent came at a cost of his family life and the happiness that such things bring. His performance is incredibly open and vulnerable here and I believe that with All Is True we are seeing Barabngh’s definitive statement on the bard in full openness here.
Joining Branagh in the film here as Shakespeare’s famed wife Anne Hathaway is living legend Dame Judi Dench and she is none too pleased with her husband here. There’s is a complex relationship from the start and with Anne we are seeing the repercussions of a wife who has spent the better part of her life alone, and who sees her husband as more of a stranger than that of any kind of lover. Again it’s honesty that drives Dench’s performance here and seeing her with Branagh on-screen is cause for much excitement.
Finally, the great Sir Ian McKellen also graces us with his immense talents in All Is True as Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, a subject of many of Shakespeare’s most revered sonnets and who visits the great writer one final time. In their shared scene together McKellen and Branagh trade both ideas and dialogue between one another and it is a great dramatic piece to watch. Like Branagh, McKellen is a performer who knows Shakespeare intimately and this informs his performance as the Earl of Southampton, and the resulting scene and screen time that the bard and his subject have together gives another insight into the notion of creativity and how it unfolds.
In terms of a cinematic experience, All Is True is an utterly beautiful piece of cinema to behold. Through production design, make-up, costuming, music and it’s rich cinematography, audiences are transported back to 1613 and all of it pulls you deeper into the story that Branagh seeks to tell. Cinematographer Zac Nicholson captures All Is True with an eye to natural light and practical in-camera lighting set-ups and his eye matched with that of Branagh results in a beautifully shaded film.
As a meditation on creativity, personality and life, All Is True is both grand and intimate and it thoroughly leaves its mark upon its audience. I would cite it as one of the most enjoyable pieces of cinema that I’ve had the pleasure of watching this year and I would wish everyone to see it and bear witness to this beautiful presentation of the life of William Shakespeare.
Image: Sony Pictures