ALL IS TRUE
Photos | TKBC
Perhaps it was inevitable that Kenneth Branagh, having run through a large number of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, has morphed into the Bard himself in “All is True.” By this logic, we shall soon have Emma Thompson portraying Jane Austen in a classy biopic about that oft-filmed author. That sounds great, actually, and so is “All is True,” which explores the later years of Shakespeare’s life, after a fire destroyed his Globe Theater in London, and he finally returned home to Stratford-upon-Avon to contend with his toughest audience yet: the family he left behind. The reviews on his performance as a father and husband are mixed, to say the least.
Virginia Woolf once wondered what would have become of Shakespeare’s sister, had she been equally talented but female and, in reckoning with Shakespeare’s legacy through the lens of his family, this film asks the same thing of his female offspring. Returning home, Shakespeare faces, as if for the first time, the loss of his son, Hamnet, at age 11.
His wife, Anne Hathaway, portrayed with tremendous candor and verve by Judi Dench, and his grown daughters have moved on from their loss, and in their father’s late, extreme reaction to the tragedy see the real issue: that there are only women left behind to fulfill his legacy, and women are second-class citizens. The oldest daughter, Susanna, is married to an unpleasant Puritan physician, but they “only” have a daughter, while Judith, who was the late Hamnet’s twin, is unmarried.
My only complaint is that perhaps these issues are explored a little too explicitly; like Judith actually yells, “the wrong twin died!” and it’s all a little on the nose sometimes. There are maybe too many conversations about Shakespeare’s imaginative powers; the title of the film comes up a couple of times, as well as its contradictory declamation, “nothing is true.” That’s from poor ol’ Judith again; she complains constantly and everyone she encounters talks about how much she complains.
While the themes might be hammered home too much at times, they are still compelling and interesting, and hammered home by some incredible actors, decked out in gorgeous costumes and more wigs than an episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Not much is factually known about the last three years of Shakespeare’s life, so much of what we see depicted is extrapolated or invented, a fitting, invented biography for the bard himself. From the casting to the plot, the whole enterprise is very meta, a satisfying play within a play.
Ian McKellen shows up briefly as the Earl of Southampton, and first Branagh then McKellen give their interpretation of a sonnet believed to have been written for Southampton. It’s an aside within the film’s action, but it serves to show us we don’t have enough Shakespearean poetry slams on screen these days, and this one is really, really good. The scene is also a nice break from the family travails of the Shakespeares, and the earl gives the audience some context for William’s social position and the extent of his efforts to better himself in the world.
While his daughter Susanna gets caught up in a courtroom drama over an accusation of adultery, which is historically accurate, questions about poor, lost Hamnet’s fate provide even more family problems when the beloved poems he wrote as a child are called into question. Shakespeare saw his son as the heir to his talent as well, and his most cherished notion of his son was that of a brilliant mini-me. This concept is dramatically exploded for the self-centered and misogynistic view of fatherhood that it is.
Authorship, paternity, legacy, creativity and accuracy – the life and work of William Shakespeare delve into all these complex topics deeply, and “All is True” raises and explores questions and, of course, the title answers them. A satisfying, speculative drama about one of humanity’s greatest spokesmen, brought to life by our current foremost interpreter of the bard, “All is True” encompasses a great deal, and does so thrillingly.
“All is True” is currently available to rent.
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