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Sunday 22 September, 2019, 4:00 pm
Rainbow Theatre, Northumberland Mall, Cobourg

all is trueThe year is 1613, and Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age. But disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son, Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationship with his wife and daughters. In so doing, he is ruthlessly forced to examine his own failings as a husband and father.

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Lydia Wilson, Kathryn Wilder, Sam Ellis
Director: Kenneth Brannagh.
Language: English
Rating: PG-13
Run time: 101 min.
Genre: Biography, Drama


By Ian and Sheila Taylor

Author and comedian Ben Elton is known for his humour and satire but his latest script, All Is True - directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh - doesn't rely on either, being based on the final three years of the life of the great playwright William Shakespeare (Branagh). When London's Globe Theatre burnt down in 1613, it dealt a devastating blow to the Bard and he returned to his family home in Stratford-Upon-Avon to spend his remaining years attempting to reconnect with the family he had largely ignored in the previous two decades. Elton's screenplay starts with the known facts about Shakespeare's life during that time and then fills in the gaps with what the author seemed to reveal about himself through his own writings. We do know for certain that he published nothing after the Globe was destroyed by fire, that he died in 1616 at the age of 52, and that he spent most of the three years separating those events in Stratford; the rest is educated guessing by Elton and Branagh, whose fascination with the 'Bard of Avon' has occupied him since his teens.

all is true3 450Set in Dorney Court, Buckinghamshire, one of the finest Tudor manor houses in Great Britain, All Is True shows us that the Shakespeare family members are divided in their feelings toward the man they haven't had much to do with and they're not entirely overjoyed to have him home permanently: his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench), is eight years older than he and illiterate but she's heard of the affection displayed in her husband's sonnets and the fact that they are lovingly dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen), so when the Earl arrives unannounced for a visit she is understandably displeased; Shakespeare's eldest daughter Susanna (Lydia Wilson), married to the Puritan physician John Hall (Hadley Fraser), is the subject of scandalous rumours in the town; and the youngest girl, Judith (Kathryn Wilder), suspects that her father has resented her since the death of her twin brother Hamnet (Sam Ellis). The loss of Shakespeare's only son when the lad was 11 is one of the memories that haunts him most keenly and his relationship with his remaining children is formal and tense as a result. In other words, although physically comfortable, family life is fraught and there are festering wounds that are in dire need of balm - wounds which force the celebrated writer to confront his personal shortcomings. As he explains to Judith, "I've lived so long in imaginary worlds, I've lost sight of what is real."

It almost goes without saying that All Is True looks magnificent. The attention to the detail of daily life in the Jacobean era is exemplary, thanks to the Production Design of James Merifield, the Set Decoration of Hannah Spice and the Costume Design by Michael O'Connor. Branagh's high forehead, wig and prosthetic nose take some getting used to, and cause some initial distraction, but the director has obviously opted to model himself as close as possible to the commonly accepted appearance of Shakespeare. Dench as Anne, however, looks considerably more than eight years older than William, so one surmises that Branagh rejected realism in this case simply because he wanted to work with the celebrated actress. McKellen's Earl features a long, wavy blonde wig, presumably to hint at the 'Fair Youth' referred to in Shakespeare's sonnets. It is, of course, a delight to see this great trio of Shakespearean actors appearing together.

all is true2 450Wisely, Elton's script doesn't attempt to speak in the language of the period; All Is True is, after all, a film for a 21st century audience, but it is sometimes a bit too modern in the use of current-day vernacular and some expressions can jar (e.g. "win some, lose some"). Its greater sin is to not entirely engage the viewer in the story, despite the emotion of the scenes depicted, and it lacks focus, possibly due to the number of overlapping storylines. While a serious drama, it is not entirely without humour and there are quite a few witty lines, as you'd expect in a film about the writer of comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream. All Is True is the title of Shakespeare's last play at the Globe, but it has another meaning: "The title encapsulates with irony, the dramatic license that Shakespeare takes regularly, and we were taking in this film," says Branagh. "There is also a second meaning to the title in this story, which is that everyone's truth matters, that all voices deserve the right to be heard, and that finding the exact truth is very hard." He and Elton have made a brave attempt at it, at least, but it feels like they bit off more than they could chew.