All is True

There’s so much we don’t know about William Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean creating fan fiction is the way to go, especially in a movie titled “All is True” when most of it, isn’t. Now, if anybody is going to do that, Kenneth Branagh is the guy. Shakespeare has been very, very good to him. So having him write, direct, and star in this…had me excited about seeing it. That was, until I was bored to tears and frustrated with the made-up elements. One of the annoying things was hearing bits of his poetry and plays in casual conversation. It bugged the hell out of me when Oliver Stone did that in The Doors movie, showing Morrison walking around speaking in song lyrics, and it’s just as dumb here. Perhaps Branagh thought the Shakespeare fans would love hearing something familiar. It makes me wonder if they ever do a movie on Michael Jordan, will they have him show up at parties and just start shooting baskets on the driveway? Will he go inside, crumble up paper and throw it into the wastebasket, while screaming “Three seconds left on the clock, and Jordan goes up, with Stockton in his face, he shoots, he scores!!!”

[Sorry. I think the NBA playoffs made me go down that path]

It was a smart move for Branagh to give us the later years of Shakespeare. While I hated that choice in Stan & Ollie last year, it worked here.

It starts off with the Globe Theatre burning down during a performance of Henry VIII when a cannon prop malfunctions. The Bard goes back home to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, surprisingly sleeping in a separate bedroom than his wife (played by Judi Dench, who looks more like his mother; in real life, she’s 26 years older than him). He has a daughter Susanna, who has a bit of a reputation. She’s also not so fond of her dad, who is still grieving his son Hamnet’s death (even though it’s been 20 years). Maybe having a male heir back than was more a thing, or the fact that he felt his son could be a great writer. His other daughter Judith is marrying a local philanderer, who has gotten another girl pregnant during their engagement.

Some critics have mentioned how Branagh’s wearing a prosthetic nose and receding hairline is a distraction (he looked like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull). I thought those elements worked, and made him look a lot like Will. At least his mustache wasn’t as bizarre as it was in the Agatha Christie movie a few years ago. I had more of a problem with his acting, which for some reason, kept making me think of Ben Kingsley in its cadence.

The film brings some interesting elements to ponder. He’s a bad husband (which I’m guessing most men were in 1600’s), but he was a genius that made his family rich. Of course, that doesn’t excuse ruining your family. Having him slowly understand his flaws was interesting, but all the subplots ended up boring me. One of them, with the great Ian McKellen, implied that they had a homosexual relationship. It felt so out of left field. It all became overstuffed and boring. An audience can only take so much of Shakespeare staring off into space, contemplating the misfortunes of his life.

The film was shot beautifully by Zac Nicholson. My wife didn’t like the opening scene with the Globe burning down, but I found it mesmerizing. The nature scenes were gorgeous to look at.

My favorite scene is the one you see in the trailers, where a young writer approaches Shakespeare in a field and says, “I don’t want to bother you, but….”

Only to be interrupted by Will saying, “Great, Cheerio, then.”

A few more moments like that would’ve done wonders for this film.

2 stars out of 5.


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