Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Running Time: 101 mins
All Is True is a British film following the final days of the life of William Shakespeare, as he returns to his home in Stratford following the burning down of the Globe Theatre in London.
Given his continued fame as the greatest playwright who ever lived, you’d be surprised at just how few films there are out there that detail the personal life of William Shakespeare. Of course, a key reason for that is that there just isn’t all that much on record about his private life.
And that’s where films like All Is True come in. Taking some bold historical interpretations from the information available, the film comes up with an engrossing and emotionally riveting story, with an intimacy that makes for enthralling watching throughout, although its credentials as a historical piece are a little undermined by the fact that its story should be taken with rather a large pinch of salt.
But historical accuracy doesn’t always have to tell the whole story, and when it comes to the plot at hand, All Is True does a rather good job at making it an engrossing watch, particularly as it centres on the unexpected domestic turbulence of the Shakespeare household upon his final return from London.
Proving an intriguing character study that opens up differing perspectives on Shakespeare as a man, the film manages to give an intimate and deep portrayal of the great writer’s inner psyche, and whether or not it matches with the reality of history, it makes for fascinating viewing, with strong drama pulsating right the way through the film.
Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Shakespeare is great, and he gives a measured and impressively down-to-earth portrayal of a historical figure that most of us – who know next to nothing about Shakespeare (myself included) – would expect to be something different. In that, while the film does look at the nature and importance of his great body of work, he’s actually a very likable and engrossing lead for the story at hand.
So, as an intimate personal drama, All Is True does a pretty good job, but there’s of course the overhanging question of its historical accuracy. Of course, as I said earlier, a good drama is still a good drama whether or not it tells a historically perfect story, but there is something to be said about a film that feels like it’s masquerading as an entirely accurate account of a fairly unprovable period of history.
In comparison to something like The Eagle Has Landed, which is a great deal of fun even though you know it’s not real history, All Is True deliberately gives off the air of a standard historical biopic, even though a large proportion of its history is made through interpretation. Of course, it’s fair to say that other portrayals of Shakespeare on film should be subject to the same criticism considering how little is known about his private life, but there is something a little underwhelming and disappointing when you watch a film that seems like true history, but in all truth most likely is not.
That’s not to say it’s an entirely falsified piece, and the core, factual information of Shakespeare’s family life is there in plain sight, but when it comes to some of the story’s more outlandish historical interpretations, it’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking to watch the film as an educational piece as well as a dramatic one.
Finally, while the movie does do a good job at providing intimate and engrossing emotional drama throughout, it just misses out on an extra level of depth in its portrayal of the last days of the great Shakespeare. In comparison to Mr. Holmes, which details the years of an aged Sherlock Holmes, All Is True doesn’t quite have that fleeting elegance that suits its story so well, and that occasionally comes back to bite the film when it’s really trying to hit home with its core emotion.
Overall, All Is True is an engrossing personal drama, with strong and intimate emotion throughout that tells a fascinating dramatic story, furthered by an excellent lead performance from Kenneth Branagh. Its historical accuracy is certainly debatable, something that occasionally proves frustrating when looking for real emotional power, but it doesn’t take away from an enthralling drama at the centre, which is why I’m giving the film a 7.4.