“All Is True” Recounts an Unknown Period of Shakespeare’s Life

How much do we really know about William Shakespeare? We know that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was educated at Kings New School.  He married Anne Hathaway at 18 and had three children with her. And most importantly he wrote at least 37 plays between 1590 and 1613.

Kenneth Branagh’s “All Is True” examines the last dark decade of Shakespeare’s life and what has been speculated about his last years. In this last decade, Shakespeare had quietly retired to his birth home of Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife and two daughters. His beloved son Hamnet died of unknown cases in 1596. The death of his son is the seed narrative for “All Is True.”

The films open with Shakespeare’s beloved (Kenneth Branagh) Globe Theatre burning to the ground with Shakespeare watching accompanied by a very young boy. Shakespeare returns to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon and attempts to mend his tedious relationship with his wife and two daughters.

Shakespeare’s oldest daughter Susanna (Lydia Wilson) is married to a self-righteous doctor John Hall (Hadley Fraser) while his younger acidic daughter Judith, brilliantly portrayed by Kathryn Wilder, and his wife (Judy Dench) have remained at the family home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Dench and Wilder are two opposite sides of the same coin. They have both experienced the fame and absence of Shakespeare while responding to absence in different ways. Dench refuses him access to the marital bed and Wilder bitterly criticizes almost everything he does. This is the household that Shakespeare in his later life must settle down to.

At the core of this uneasy family reunion of sorts is Shakespeare’s mourning over the death of his son Hamnet, Judith’s twin brother. Believing that his son possessed a great talent for writing, Shakespeare continues to bemoan Hamnet’s death many years after his son’s passing. Judith has become a bitter shrew believing that her father would have preferred her death over her twin brother, and Anne, Shakespeare, has settled done to a frustrated existence of mundane normalcy.

Though “All Is True” is a slow-moving film, Branagh has done an excellent job at recapturing the norms and attitudes of post-Elizabethan England. His Shakespeare is both wise and blithely unaware at times. Having spent so much of his time being a man of the stage, the pedestrian humdrum life of Stratford-upon-Avon is a relief from the hustle and bustle of London, and at other times a lifestyle to be tolerated. Reintegrating himself into family life is proving to be tedious at best. And often, Branagh’s Shakespeare is treated like a stranger in his own home.

Dench’s Anne Hathaway is a resolute and tempered matriarch who has written her own narrative about the circumstances of her marriage and the death of her son. Her narrative is her only truth. No other truth matters.

While Dench and Branagh’s characters are fully fleshed out portrayals, it is Wilder as Judith that really gives viewers insight into norms and morays of post-Elizabethan England. Women are just an appendage to men with no real power or consequence. And they wear their unhappiness like a heavy shroud.

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures

Though “All Is True is not for a mass audience, Branagh does give an interesting perspective on Shakespeare’s last days with an interesting twist on his sexual preference thrown in for good measure.  The challenge is if audience will really care about this depiction of William Shakespeare. Hmm, it is a hard call.

“All Is True” is a Sony Pictures film, directed by Kenneth Branagh. “All Is True” opens in select theaters on May 10.

 —William S. Gooch

Speak Your Mind

*

Copyright © 2012-2019 | Fashion Reverie Publications, LLC - All Rights Reserved