ĎAll Is Trueí Movie Review: The Yearís First Real Oscar Threat?

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, 8 June 2019
By Mike Scott

"The play," Prince Hamlet famously says, "is the thing." Or, to contort those words ever so slightly for more modern moviegoing sensibilities, the story is the thing.

That is to say: More often than not, if you don't have a good, rock-solid story on which to build your film, you can expect to encounter far more slings and arrows than outrageous fortune.

It's ironic, then, that Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare drama "All is True," about the post-retirement life of the Bard, is a notable exception to that rule.

Its largely fabricated, hit-or-miss story leaves something to be desired, but, at the same time, there's so much else to recommend the film that its lack of sterling storytelling doesn't matter a whit.

Nearly every scene in Branagh's film, which he directs in addition to starring in, is worth savoring for one reason or another. That lends the proceedings an overall richness that elevates it well above its script's failings.

There are the lush sets and the beautiful costumes you'd expect of a period drama such as this this. (Along those lines, it must be said: Oh, the hats!) That's further burnished by Zac Nicholson's award-worthy cinematography, which combines sweeping vistas with lovely shot compositions -- highlighted by imaginative camera angles -- and gorgeous light design.

All combined, they make "All is True" one of the more visually fetching films to hit theaters so far this year.

Then there are the performances, which are universally commendable. Branagh and Judi Dench, as William and Ann Shakespeare, stand out, of course. Both are old pros, and they are so at home in the Shakespearian sphere that they make things look far easier and more effortless than they are.

Even more impressive is Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton, the man whom many an academic believes was the inspiration for the "Fair Youth" of Shakespeare's sonnets. McKellen is on-screen for only about 10 minutes, but he makes the most of it. In that short time, he delivers a bravura performance that is entirely mesmerizing.

It's probably far too early for talk about award season, but one has to hope voters remember McKellen's supporting turn in "All is True" come ballot time.

All three actors make sure there's hardly a false moment in "All is True." That's a feat, especially considering the fact that all isn't really true, despite the title (which, incidentally, was an alternate title for Shakespeare's "Henry VIII"). In fact, so few verifiable facts are known about Shakespeare's later years, a more truthful title for Branagh's film would have been "All is Fabricated."

Based on a script by Ben Elton, itís purely speculative stuff, focusing on various imagined domestic travails that roil the Shakespeare household during The Bardís final years. Itís also, curiously, set after he gave up writing, so it has next to nothing to do with the most interesting thing about Shakespeare.

Consequently, while it's stocked with moments of heartfelt appreciation for the craft, it plays more like a 17th century soap opera than anything else.

And, yet, there's no denying that there's something compelling about Branagh's film, which -- and this much is true -- is definitely worth the price of admission.

_____________ ALL IS TRUE, 3 stars out of 5

Snapshot: A largely fictitious historical drama about the later years of playwright William Shakespeare, after he retired from writing and returned to Stratford-Upon-Avon for a life of unexpected domestic turmoil.

What works: The acting, highlighted by a bravura supporting turn from Ian McKellen, is universally superb, and the visuals -- the sets, the costumes and especially the cinematography -- are gorgeous.

What doesnít: The hit-or-miss story around which it is all built, in addition to being largely fabricated, plays more like a 17th century soap opera than anything else.

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, McKellen, Lydia Wilson, Kathryn Wilder. Director: Branagh. MPAA rating: PG-13, for thematic elements, suggestive material and language. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes. When and where: Now playing at the Elmwood Palace.

Back to All Is True page | Back to Articles Listing | Back to the Compendium