‘All is true’: a he-said, she-said film review

Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh star in “All Is True.”

Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh star in “All Is True.”


By Tom and Marilyn Jozwik

Published June 4, 2019

HE: The thought struck me as I watched (with considerable interest) “All  Is True,” starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh, that I’ve not often seen William Shakespeare depicted onscreen. In fact I think it’s only seldom that the Bard of Avon has been depicted onscreen, perhaps because there are few certainties about his life.

Anyway, Branagh portrays “Will” convincingly and empathetically in this drama speculating on the last several years of Shakespeare’s life. His Globe Theatre has been destroyed by fire, and Shakespeare has decided to retire from playwriting and theatre management, to leave London and return to his home and long-neglected family in Stratford-upon-Avon. Given his generation-long London stay, Shakespeare has missed his son’s death and burial, his two daughters’ growing up, his somewhat older wife’s (Judi Dench) progression from middle to old age. And his now extended family doesn’t exactly greet the returning wordsmith with open arms. (For example, Mrs. Shakespeare bars Will from her bedroom for a period of time.)

SHE: What I really liked about this film is that it didn’t have that stiff, serious feel of some historical shows. The characters don’t speak in flowery language, but seem rather modern in their discourse. This would’ve been a compelling story even without the major character being Shakespeare.

HE: Yes. I found the music pleasant and unobtrusive. There are some lovely scenes—“painterly” is a modifier that comes to mind. There are some dark and foreboding shots as well. Also some poignant scenes, as when his wife and daughters read excerpts from his poetry at the Bard’s bier. To go along with your praising of the film’s not being deadly serious, I liked seeing Branagh’s Shakespeare doing some average Joe stuff, like arguing with a stuffy neighbor and tending a garden (a motif)—though Branagh’s Shakespeare doesn’t come across as being exceptionally comfortable with physical labor.

SHE: I also liked the look of the movie. It seemed to alternate between bright—or at least light (is England ever bright?) and dark, candle-lit indoor scenes. I especially enjoyed a dimly lit protracted scene in which Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton tries to convince Shakespeare to return to writing. It was a treat to see such a thoughtful scene played out in this age of choppy editing. The acting was superb and wonderfully showcased by director Branagh.  A— .

HE: The acting was fine, the time period well-captured. I did have a little trouble keeping characters straight. The storyline will appeal more to some—English lit buffs, for instance—than to others.  B  is my grade for the movie … a very solid  B.