The great Sir Kenneth Branagh is well-known for his multiple Shakespeare adaptations that have included “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Hamlet” (the film I credit with making me fall in love with The Bard in the first place). Having not adapted a Shakespeare play since 2006’s “As You Like It,” Branagh has instead been filling his time with a variety of projects that includes “Thor,” “Cinderella,” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” However, his latest brings him back to the realm of the great author, not in the form of a play adaptation, but rather a film entitled “All is True” that explores the last few years of Shakespeare’s life. It may not have been what most were hoping for from Branagh after so long without a proper adaptation, but it still sounded like a project that has quite a lot of potential, especially with a Shakespeare expert like Branagh at the helm.
In 1613, an accident during a performance of “Henry VIII” results in the Globe Theatre burning down, and the renowned playwright William Shakespeare (Sir Kenneth Branagh) returning home to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s a somewhat awkward adjustment, for he has scarcely seen his wife, Anne (Dame Judi Dench), or daughters, Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder), over the last several years. His family finds that he is still heavily affected by the death of his son, Hamnet, who passed at the age of 11, with William constantly reading the young boy’s poetry and even starting up a garden in his honor. As William mends his relationship with his family, certain harsh truths are uncovered that force him to change his perception of tragic events long past.
Whenever we get a film or show about William Shakespeare, it always seems to be a similar type of plotline. That is, it always seems to revolve around The Bard getting inspiration to write one of his many masterworks, such as “Romeo & Juliet” in the wonderful, multi-Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” or various works in the BBC comedy “Upstart Crow” (created by Ben Elton, who penned the screenplay for “All is True”). Material like that is great, but an idea like exploring the last few years of Shakespeare’s life, a period that not many people know about, is a rather fascinating one, especially to those who are already big fans of his work.
“All is True” examines this part of Shakespeare’s life in a mostly-compelling manner, bringing to life a fictionalized account of what happened based on the records that we have of the time. It deals with Shakespeare coming home after the disaster, his daughters trying to find husbands, certain slander against his family, his will, and, of course, his attempt to deal with the loss of his son 17 years prior. We know that certain events happened, but as to how it actually happened, we obviously have no idea. However, Ben Elton has weaved the events together into an intriguing film that plays as part drama, part comedy, and part mystery, with this last genre providing a good chunk of the film’s draw as the death of Will and Anne’s son comes further into focus.
It hardly needs to be said, but Sir Kenneth Branagh does a marvelous job of bringing Shakespeare to the screen, mixing the various emotions of the events into a strong portrayal of the man. Likewise, the always-wonderful Dame Judi Dench gives Anne Hathaway a marvelous spark and ferocity to her. We even get an all-too-brief cameo from the incredible Sir Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton, who is merely in the film for a couple of scenes. The cast as a whole is quite splendid, including the lesser known Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder as Shakespeare’s daughters.
Overall, the film ends up being an intriguing little treat for Shakespeare fans, and for those who’ve ever wondered how The Bard spent his last few years. It may not be up there with the spectacular adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays that Branagh has given us in the past, but it’s still rather fascinating to see him take on an entirely different dimension of the man himself, so when it comes to finding out something you probably didn’t know about the greatest author in history, it’s most definitely worth checking out.
“All is True” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. This period piece comes adorned with gorgeous costumes and settings, which are brilliantly highlighted by the beautifully sharp and clear picture. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue and Patrick Doyle’s score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has received marvelous treatment, leaving you with a great experience in both areas.
Q&A with Kenneth Branagh (34 Minutes): A fascinating Q&A with the director/actor in which he discusses Shakespeare and the film.
Shakespeare Comes Home (3 Minutes): A short featurette that gives you a brief overview of the film.
The Bard’s Reckoning (3 Minutes): Another brief featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the film.
Behind-the-Scenes (8 Minutes): A series of five featurettes that delve into such subjects as the makeup, Dame Judi Dench, and Sir Ian McKellen.
Visiting Stratford: The Story Behind All is True (8 Minutes): A featurette that takes a look at the film’s historical accuracy.
Sir Kenneth Branagh’s “All is True” is a splendid little treat for Shakespeare fans, especially for those who’ve always wanted to know a little more about the man himself. Headlined by a great cast that includes Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, and a cameo from Sir Ian McKellen, it’s an intriguing mixture of genres that explores its subject in a mostly-compelling manner, ultimately leaving you with a fascinating film that touches on a not-often-examined area of the brilliant author’s life.