All is True is Kenneth Branagh’s and Ben Elton’s collaborative Shakespearean biopic focusing on the Bard’s retirement years captures the essence of the English countryside. The plot focuses on Shakespeare’s rather estranged homecoming to Stratford-upon Avon after his success in London. Considering Branagh’s and Elton’s involvement in this film, its subject matter comes as no surprise due to their adoration of Shakespeare evident in their other film and tv projects, including Elton’s Upstart Crow and Branagh’s Hamlet (1996).
At first, the story is muddled, as Will adopts the stereotypical retirement activity of gardening in an attempt to preserve the memory of his deceased. Thus, we are gifted with exquisitely natural lighting on an array of embedded plants reminiscent of beautiful wide shots from enticing travel videos. Nonetheless, Elton and Branagh manage to intertwine the grit and wit often associated with the Bard himself into the plot. This is particularly notable in how the film tackles the concept of romanticisation through Shakespeare’s obsession with Hamnet and feelings for the Earl of Southampton. Additionally, heavy contextual themes, some still applicable today, are explored, including misogyny, lack of female education, the harrowing prospect of mourning and puritanism.
Despite Elton managing to inject his classical comedic style through Judith and Will’s strained father-daughter relationship, often resulting in hilarious bickering, more serious matters are addressed. The film ultimately focuses on pride and status versus merit. Branagh’s Shakespeare is portrayed as a talented man so ashamed of his humble beginnings that he purchases a coat of arms. This mirrors Branagh’s youth as he altered his broad Northern Irish accent to a more theatrical English accent in order to fit in with his peers. These more serious undertones to the film are theatrically composed through the acting. This dramatic acting fused with a rollercoaster emotional story means that All is True is truly Shakespearean in form, making it an accessible means to contextualise the Bard’s works.
All is True beautifully pays homage to the British obsession with classical Shakespearean theatre. Thus, encapsulating the best of British history and culture into a mere hour and forty minutes.
Image: Ronald Woan via Wikimedia Commons.