I think most writers have a fondness for William Shakespeare. At the very least, it is impossible not to know of his words and his plays. For myself, I love his comedies most of all but his words are what inspire me and as a writer are something to aspire to. When I received the invitation to this movie, All is True, which depicts the last few years of his life, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I’m extraordinarily glad I saw it. It is beautifully performed, richly authentic, and is a lovely homage to the bard.
“All is True” recounts Shakespeare’s last few years. The year is 1613 and disaster strikes the great bard when the Globe Theater burns to the ground. Devastated, William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) retreats to Stratford, where he must face his estranged family, his troubled past, and his haunted by the death of his son, Hamnet (Sam Ellis). In order to mend his relationship with his wife, Anne (Judi Dench), and his daughters, Susannah (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder), he must face harsh truths and come to terms with his failings as a husband and father.
This film in particular speaks of legacies, both the legacy of William Shakespeare’s words as a writer and his legacy as a husband and father. It is a reflective film, forcing the viewer to see Shakespeare as more than a poet and bard but also a man, with failings and woes just like any other. The writer, Ben Elton, and the director, Kenneth Branagh, have written an unflinching view of William Shakespeare while still providing an homage to his art and his words. It is especially profound how it views how William deals with his grief over Hamnet, his perceptions of his son and the view of the time of what expectations men had for their daughters. It also shines a spotlight on why he is estranged from Anne, with a visit from the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellan). It deals with universal truths much like the plays of the great man and ultimately, being about family, reflects his own writing with the movie’s view of Shakespeare.
Beyond the universal truths, one of the most compelling storylines is his relationship with Judith, twin to Hamnet, who seeks her father’s approval and blames herself for the death of her brother. Her words to her father are both dour but striking, as she reveals truths he would shy away from and eventually creates a family, marrying for the sake of her father. What I admire of the character is that she still does so on her own terms, finding a man she can obtain happiness with, a contrast to her sister, Susannah, who is in an unloving marriage with her husband, John, Puritan, and doctor. It is powerful, when the women of the family, find their own power and voice, including Anne.
The language of this film is a loving tribute to the poet, words infused into every line of the film, with both wit and insight. The language and writing reveal William Shakespeare’s truths, woven with lines from his own poems and plays. This layering of language is one of my favorite elements of the movie. Even when William speaks of writing, his words resonate of writing, saying that words must come from a place of truth. Those words will speak to writers and artists. Even more importantly, it illustrates a life lived in contrast to those who die penniless and alone. Unlike his peers, Shakespeare dies surrounded by loving family, with the love and praise of the world and illustrating how much his words live on into the modern age.
The performances are insightful and powerful. Kenneth Branagh distills the very essence of William Shakespeare into his performance. And infuses richness and quiet dignity into his acting. From a man that so obviously loves Shakespeare, it is a beautiful portrayal. Judi Dench breathes life into Anne Hathaway, showing restraint and cleverness beyond the written word, practicality flowing in every word. Ian McKellan is masterful, but that is a given, the man an incredible actor. Lydia Wilson is emotional as Susannah, loving and intelligent. But the most powerful performance truly belongs to Kathryn Wilder, playing Judith, as she plays her role with wit, courage, and deep emotion, ranging from dour and bitter to joyful and powerful.
Possibly the only flaw is that the film is slow. But that is necessary to delve into William Shakespeare’s last years. It may not appeal to the widest audience but for those who love Shakespeare, who wish to have an insight into the man, into his last years, and into his truths, this film is rich and beautiful. I loved the performances, the words of the bard, and the loving homage to one of the most famous of writers, one of my favorite writers, sharing universal truths about both William Shakespeare and his family.
If you love the words of William Shakespeare and you like the performances of Kenneth Branagh, then I would not pass up this film. Despite the slow pacing, it resonates and embodies the whole of the bard. Those who love rich performances, the intricate words, and the poetry of his plays will not want to miss it. In addition, it conveyed universal truths and I loved all the performances but especially Kathryn Wilder as Judith.
Rating: 4.5 pen knifes out of 5.