Shakespeare at Home

Kenneth Branagh brings #timesup to the Elizabethan era

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

All Is True
Roxy Theatre

Opens June 7

Kenneth Branagh isn’t the ultimate Shakespearean actor, but he’s certainly branded himself as such. Having brought every major play to the screen but still too young to play elders in “King Lear” or “The Tempest”, Branagh finds himself in a limbo of sorts. What’s a fifty-something thespian to do?

Make a movie about the playwright himself, of course.

All Is True covers the last year of William Shakespeare’s life. After his theatre burns to the ground, the world’s most famous writer decides to retire to the family home in the countryside. Mind you, the Bard hasn’t been at the place in two decades (!), and his wife (Judy Dench) and daughters’ predominant feeling for Shakespeare is resentment.

The Bard is not particularly regretful about his path, except for one thing: he wasn’t there when his only son, Hamnet, succumbed to the plague. The kid had shown some promise with the quill and Shakespeare treasures his little sonnets as sacred scrolls.

Other petty dramas await the unmoored Shakespeare: his elder daughter has married a puritan who both disapproves of the poet but covets the inheritance. The younger one is alone and overtaken by bitterness. Both women are perfectly aware that only a male heir could secure access to the Bard’s fortune. I’d be resentful, too.

As per All Is True, all of Shakespeare’s late-in-life problems stem from a male-centric worldview. The playwright’s fascination with his son’s writings — even after death — triggers the steady stream of calamities that befall the household.

Several little mysteries surround the movie’s main one: why did Shakespeare stop writing? Most of them get satisfactory, even poignant answers. Branagh can play men oblivious to their own flaws without breaking a sweat. The stunt casting of Judi Dench as Shakespeare’s wife is harder to swallow (she was older than the playwright, but not that much older), but it’s worth it just to hear the actress refer to the Bard as “husband” with barely disguised contempt.

All Is True is filled with little moments like that: Shakespeare matching wits with the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen, another guy who knows his way around a stage) or refuting every myth about him.

But the most important bit of info is in the title: if a creator looks for inspiration within, whatever he finds must be true. A minor work in Branagh’s oeuvre, no doubt, but delightful nonetheless.