Movie review / ‘All Is True’ (M)

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Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare and Judi Dench and Anne Hathaway in “All Is True”.

“All Is True”  (M) *** and a half

HOW did Will Shakespeare spend his last years after retiring in 1613 until dying reputedly on his 52nd birthday in 1616?

In Ben Elton’s screenplay for Kenneth Branagh’s film (directing and playing Will), he went back to the house New Place that he bought in 1597 outside Stratford-upon-Avon, there to build a garden, mourn his son Hamnet who died aged 11 and mend his bridges with Anne Hathaway, the illiterate wife whom he has often been accused of neglecting although he obviously supported her financially. Much of this is perhaps invention that as cinema works quite effectively.

The acting is on safer ground. Behind bearded features showing a serious similarity to contemporary drawings of Will, Branagh’s delivery of words stands high. Judi Dench, never less than wonderful, plays Anne. Ian McKellen is, as you might expect, a delight to the ear as Will’s friend and patron Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (learned sources are divided about his sexuality).

“Bartlett’s Dictionary of Quotations” devotes 86 pages to Shakespeare, more than anybody else. Elton’s screenplay is serious stuff, far from sycophantic. In conversation after the screening, a gentlemen expressed some surprise that a comedian had written what we had seen. He agreed that comedians had to have a talent for mining life’s vagaries.

Elton had a mountain of artistic craft and subsequent scholarship from which to draw inspiration, but precious little hard information from contemporary records. He uses quotations respectfully. But at times, modern language creeps in that some may find unfortunate. Regret, then forgive. “All Is True” is unlikely to break box office records, but I doubt that its creators expected that it would. More a labour of love, not lost.

At Palace Electric, Dendy

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“All Is True” (M) *** and a half
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Dougal Macdonald
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