All is True

 

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Shakespeare's endgame provides a good cast with little of value.

 
All is True

Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder

  

Given the three names above the title - Branagh, Dench and McKellen - All Is True is surely set to be a commercial success especially with older audiences who, in addition, are likely to be attracted by a work about Shakespeare that looks at his years in retirement.  But whether or not the audience will emerge feeling satisfied may well be another question altogether. Frankly, this is a disappointing piece that never escapes from the limitations inherent in Ben Elton's screenplay.

 

Written statements at the start inform us that after the Globe Theatre was burnt down in 1613 Shakespeare returned home to Stratford with his career as a playwright at an end. That having been confirmed and with details of Shakespeare's last years being rather scant, Elton has had to search around for enough plots and sub-plots to fill out a feature-length film. What he has ended up with are diverse bits and pieces badly lacking in any real sense of flow as we jump from one to another. If there's a centre to the film, it lies in Shakespeare's obsession with his dead son Hamnet, supposedly a plague victim at the age of eleven. Elton elects to find in this an injustice to Shakespeare's daughter Judith, Hamnet's twin - she goes unrecognized as the author of the poems that had been written down for her by Hamnet whom her father had regarded as being their creator. This rather suggests that Elton was on the lookout for a feminist theme - Judith being denied a poem of her own, never mind a room - while the father/son theme is elaborated by the boy appearing as an apparition wanting dad to tell his story! To add yet more to the drama here Elton's screenplay eventually offers a fresh take on Hamnet's death.

 

Mixed in with this is another plot line concerning Shakespeare's other daughter Susanna and the fact that her husband is a Puritan but this is somewhat undeveloped. Meanwhile Judith's story is given another angle through her courtship by a man whose past catches up with him at a key moment. We do, of course, also have Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. But, given her fame and the casting of Judi Dench in this role, one is surprised to find her so very much in the background. Some of the players with central roles are less well known but prove able (Kathryn Wilder as Judith and Lydia Wilson as Susanna among them). Kenneth Branagh, playing Shakespeare and looking almost unrecognizable, is naturally the central figure and gives the film an effective key presence. With Anne Hathaway played down in the screenplay, Judi Dench achieves a convincing dried up characterisation but since Anne is only a supporting figure this is her least rewarding 'star' role in years. As for Sir Ian McKellen, he is present only in one scene, but it is one of the better ones and you can understand his wish to do it since he plays the Earl of Southampton in an episode acknowledging the love that he and Shakespeare shared.

 

However in toto all of this comes across as a dull rather pointless affair and it is certainly not helped by Branagh's direction. That is all too well illustrated when he opts to use a static long shot for a scene which ought to be a revelatory highlight but which as presented loses all of its potential drama. Add that the music score is somewhat banal and one cannot but feel that All Is True is a sadly lacklustre work coming from such distinguished artists. As for it all being true (give or take the presence of a ghost), the title is countered by Judith's line "Nothing is true" but we are not really made to care one way or the other.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder, Lydia Wilson, Phil Dunster, Jack Colgrave Hirst, Hadley Fraser, Michael Rouse, Eleanor de Rohan, Phil Dunster, Doug Colling, Gerard Horan.

 

Dir Kenneth Branagh, Pro Kenneth Branagh, Ted Gagliano and Tamar Thomas, Screenplay Ben Elton, Ph Zac Nicholson, Pro Des James Merifield, Ed Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Music Patrick Doyle, Costumes Michael O'Connor.

 

Sony Pictures Classics/TKBC-Sony Pictures.
101 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 8 February 2019. Cert. 12A.