“There is a knowing irony in calling this fanciful Shakespeare biopic All Is True. Written by Ben Elton and directed by its star Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), the film plays so fast and loose with the playwright’s final years that it’s clear that accuracy is not the priority here.
But there is a succinct emotional truth to All is True, whose name comes from the alternative title to Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII. It was during a performance of that play that a cannon burnt the Globe Theatre to the ground—and it is in the aftermath of that disaster that the film begins. Shakespeare, vowing that he is ‘done with stories’, returns to his family in Stratford to live out the rest of his days, but he has been absent for so long that his arrival disrupts their lives entirely.
He is promptly consigned to the guest room by his wife Anne, played with commanding steeliness by Judi Dench (Nothing Like a Dame, Philomena) who, at 84, is 27 years older than her real-life counterpart, but she’s so good you don’t begrudge her for it. Meanwhile, his sharp-tongued daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder), a 28-year-old ‘spinster’, resents him for dredging up the death of her twin brother Hamnet. His other daughter, Susanna (Lydia Wilson), is unhappily married to Puritan John Hall, and may be having an affair with a local haberdasher.
As Shakespeare, Branagh delivers every nuance. Having directed and starred in countless adaptations of the Bard’s plays, he could easily have reeled off each line as a bombastic soliloquy. Instead, his Shakespeare is weary and conflicted, wretchedly egotistic one moment (‘Through my genius I’ve brought fame and fortune to this house’), overly meek the next—as in a memorable scene with Ian McKellen’s (Mr. Holmes) Earl of Southampton.
In the same scene, Shakespeare is told that for all his genius he has lived ‘the smallest life’. That may be so, but the film paints that life so richly it hardly matters.” (Alexandra Pollard, The Independent)
“All Is True is sentimental, theatrical, likable—and unfashionable.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
“A tender, intelligent imagining of the playwright in retirement.” (Jonathan Romney, Screen International)
“Slowly, as the thematic center of the film begins to take shape, so does Branagh’s character—and in those moments the audience is treated to what amounts to nothing short of a Christmas gift for any Anglophile or Shakespeare lover.” (Dana Schwartz, Entertainment Weekly)