After the Globe theatre has burnt down, William Shakespeare returns to his estranged family in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Unwilling to write and only now coming to terms with the death of his son some years previous, Shakespeare sets out to create a garden in memory of his lost protégé. As he toils in the garden, he finds that his family too need nurturing.
‘All is True’ brings together Ben Elton and Kenneth Branagh, two men that have spent considerable chunks of their career dedicated to The Bard. It’s clear how much respect and awe they have for their subject matter and spin a great tale from the tiny details that are known of Shakespeare’s final years. Those hoping for 'Upstart Crow' the movie will be disappointed, it's entirely a different beast. Rather than a knockabout comedy, it's a mournful drama with a sombre pace. At times it takes the same subject matter as the aforementioned sitcom but from a completely different angle. You don't need to know anything about Shakespeare or his life for the film to work. For people that do know their history, there are lots of details that do a great job of grounding it in its time period. Sure, some will complain that it takes liberties with the facts, but that would be to entirely miss the point.
At its heart, the film is a family drama. Between the casting and the script, everyone feels like a fully fleshed out three-dimensional character. One scene even explicitly explains how they have achieved this. A young writer asks Shakespeare how he could write about so many exotic topics without ever leaving England and his reply “what I didn’t know, I imagined within myself”. It’s such a thoughtful and languid piece of cinema that it’s hard to believe that the script was written by the same person that unleashed ‘We Will Rock You’, adding the last nail in the coffin of West End theatre.
The film covers a huge amount of topics in its fairly tight running time. It works so well because it stays true to the Stuart time period whilst passing comments on our own time. At the forefront are the way that women are treated, their bodies being nothing more than property in the eyes of the law and state. Its release is amazingly well-timed and the subtlety of grounding in possible real-life conversations makes it effective. The dialogue sits in a good medium, it's modern enough to understand but sufficient archaic language is thrown in to give it a flavour of authenticity.
For fans of period dramas, it's worth going for the costumes and sets alone. Everything drips with authenticity and the scenes in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon look especially good. Admittedly the rare shots that involve special effects are jarring as the scales don’t look right and could easily have been cut without losing anything. Certain close-ups also show that Branagh’s beard is clearly glued on and they can be distracting.
It is a finely crafted movie with a surprising amount of depth. Mixing meditative melancholia with a wry sense of humour it really draws you in. Definitely worth a trip to the cinema on a dreary afternoon or the like.