All Is True review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Kenneth Branagh has such a fervent love of William Shakespeare that of course he would make a film like All is True. How could he resist directing a film about the twilight years of the tortured writer where he gets to play said writer himself? While this act seems familiar, it’s hard to fully fault Branagh for putting all he has into such a film, even if it doesn’t touch upon much most profound.
The story takes place in 1613, soon after the Globe Theater burned down in a disaster. Shakespeare, saddened, returns home to Stratford to find a less than accepting return from his family. Having been gone for so long, they’ve become used to him not being there and shutting out his past. One can understand why given that there are troubling memories within his estate, being haunted by visions of loved ones departed. His wife (Anne Hathaway) tries to offer comfort but how much can she possibly give with a tortured artist having been absent for so long? He’s been away for so long and she doesn’t expect him to stay long either.
Struggling to find some sense of inspiration and purpose, Shakespeare takes to gardening. An odd choice in a hobby to the outside but not so strange personally considering his connection to the loss of life within his home. Through his gardening, a peace set over him. A comfort takes hold. A slight glimmer of inspiration returns, speaking more freely about how to write, what to write, and what makes us write in the first place. He speaks a certain truth when asked about writing, that one must have trust in themself and honesty in their love for putting the pen to paper. As long as one is true to themselves, all will be true within the writing that is composed.
Branagh’s picture meanders between heartfelt melodrama and inspiring observation. There are quiet moments that tap into the brilliance of Shakespeare’s appeal, especially during a stirring conversation with Ian McKellen in the role of the Earl. But then there are moments that feel too expected as when Shakespeare has a conversation with the ghost of his family. For a film that wants us to see something more and peer into the mind of a gifted writer, scenes like these feel too on the nose that seems more serviceable in a blunter and less thoughtful picture that struggles to find something unique about the historic figure.
All is True manages to muster an ounce of quiet understanding from a man who dug the writer almost a little too much. Armed with some strong performances and a lightly beautiful tone, there’s just enough here to be a pleasing period piece, if not a self-serving one for the obsession of Branagh once more.