No one in current cinema and theater celebrates the beauty, wit and wonder of the words of William Shakespeare better than Kenneth Branagh. In his latest feature, All is True, the writer/director/actor takes his masterful and intimate understanding of The Bard even further, tackling not just the words of Shakespeare, but the man himself.
After a fire destroys his beloved Globe Theatre in 1613, Shakespeare (Branagh) returns to Stratford-upon-Avon, where he is met with a less-than-warm homecoming. Tired, middle-aged and creatively burned out, the sour reception sets the stage for his own third act.
With a prosthetic schnozz and receding hairline, Branagh looks the part. His portrayal of The Bard is likable, kind and really quite thoughtful, playing to the man’s alleged strengths and weaknesses. Shakespeare’s wife was eight years older than he was. Curiously, Branagh casts Judi Dench as Ann Hathaway and, in spite of a 26-year age gap, it works.
The ensemble composing Shakespeare’s immediate family is tight and collectively delivers fine performances. But the person who blatantly makes the most of his time on screen is Ian McKellen as the deliciously aristocratic Earl of Southampton.
Branagh’s film may be set in the Jacobean era but will resonate with contemporary audiences. Ben Elton’s script sparkles with crackling dialogue, yet isn’t bogged down with Elizabethan prose. Shakespeare purists and art house cinema devotees should appreciate the film’s title, though they may take issue with the overall work’s accessibility and sentimentality.
Even so, All is True is beautifully filmed and lovingly told. Personally, this critic thinks the old Bard himself would approve.
Starts June 7 at Grail Moviehouse