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Audrey Kupferberg: All Is True

For most Shakespeare enthusiasts, Kenneth Branagh is the gift that seemingly never stops giving.  Branagh has directed, played major roles in, and adapted for the big screen and modern stage, a slue of the plays of William Shakespeare.  It is no wonder that he relished actually playing the Bard of Avon in the feature film ALL IS TRUE, which he also directed and produced. 

Currently in theaters, ALL IS TRUE is a fictionalized tale of Shakespeare’s final years.  As the film opens, the year is 1613, just after the Globe Theatre burned to the ground, and Shakespeare left London and retired to his family home in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Since so little is recorded of the views and life of the Bard, Ben Elton, who wrote the screenplay for ALL IS TRUE, has imagined the details of this final period until his death in 1616 at the age of 52.  Elton has a background in writing comedy; a prolific writer for stage, screen, and TV, he is remembered fondly for his work on the classic, provocative, often silly British comedy series of the 1980s, BLACKADDER and for various other projects with top comic names in Britain.  While some viewers and critics are reacting to the use of unsubstantiated and in some cases totally fictional details of Shakespeare’s life as questionable, I am not. 

The clear irony of the title ALL IS TRUE – which is an alternate title for HENRY VIII, the play that was in progress on June 29, 1613, when the Globe burned,– is that much of this film is not true.  If the viewer agrees to accept the fact that Elton is winking at us with his creative story-telling, then all is well that ends well.  If not, this film could be an exasperating experience.  But the movie was a treat, an exploration of an unusual subject without the restrictions of history. 

I enjoyed the imaginings. Shakespeare’s obsession with his dead son Hamnet, Shakepeare’s attempts to reestablish himself as head of his family, the community’s commerce and their duties to their church… I enjoyed the unconventional take on Shakespeare and his older wife, Anne Hathaway.  Even a quick read of the Wikipedia article on the Bard tells us that Shakespeare’s relationship with religion is a question mark.  The piece goes on to say that Shakespeare’s early poems may have been written to a man that he loved, giving a homosexual theme to this plot, which certainly is a popular thread in today’s entertainment marketplace. 

The cast is enough to bring me back for a second viewing.  Branagh himself plays Shakespeare.  His make-up is exceptionally good.  We lose the blonde, bland-faced actor and find a plausible Shakespeare in his place. Judi Dench plays Anne Hathaway.  Of course, she is way too old for the part, but who cares?  She is Judi Dench!  As if to place whipped cream and a cherry on top of this ice-cream sundae of a cast, Ian McKellen appears as Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. 

A highlight in ALL IS TRUE comes when Branagh and McKellen, both in close-ups, recite Sonnet 29, “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state….”  It’s a small film and may wind up being forgotten in a few years, but ALL IS TRUE has insights and a beauty that give it a special value.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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