All is True: William Shakespeare’s Last Days

Left to Right: Judi Dench as Anne Hathaway, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare. Photo by Robert Youngson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

All is True picks up after the tragic burning of the Globe Theatre and William Shakespeare retiring to a home life in Stratford.

William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) is the greatest playwright of all time.  This is a film that tells is story following the Globe Theatre fire.  The fire would lead Shakespeare into retirement.  He would never write another play again.  Screenwriter Ben Elton draws upon what we know about the Bard and takes liberties elsewhere.  He picks up on the playwright’s life in 1613.  One thing is clear:  Shakespeare is still haunted by the death of his son, Hamnet (Sam Ellis), in 1596.  Even though he had two living adult daughters, Hamnet was clearly his pride and joy.

Much to the surprise of wife Anne (Judi Dench) and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susanna (Lydia Wilson), the Bard is home for good in New Place.  Susanna has issues of her own with being married to the puritanical John Hall (Hadley Fraser).  It’s quite the scandalous life so to speak.  Despite retirement, Shakespeare still has a way with the English language.  It’s beautiful, really.  Anne is still not over the fact that Shakespeare’s sonnets were mistakenly published.  It gets worse when the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) heads to the Shakespeare residence to hang out.  Anne really isn’t happy to know this.  The two men have some history between them.

As for Judith, she may as well be appearing in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.  This isn’t in a bad way!  It’s more because of some of the dialogue.   If you see the film, you’ll know what I mean.  I can see Judith and Dewey getting along because of their bonding over the wrong kid dying.  In a matter of minutes, Judith undoes all of her father’s thoughts about Hamnet.  While it’s largely believed that Hamnet died from the plague, Judith offers up a different scenario.  Moreover, there’s some jealousy here in that her twin brother was allowed to get an education.  I love that the film gets into this family tension.  Once it’s resolved, Judith is able to come to terms and start up a relationship with Tom Quniey (Jack Colgrave Hirst).

There has been debate over Shakespeare’s sexuality for years.  The scenes between Shakespeare and the Earl certainly play up the romance implied by the sonnets.  There isn’t any physical romance on screen.  For what it’s worth, Elton’s script is heavy with the idea of an intense relationship between the two.  The film can only take dramatic liberties.  We’ll certainly never know the truth.

As author biopics go, All is True is seemingly fine.  Meeting him in retirement means that there’s not so much of a focus on his writing process.  It’s a bummer when you think about it.  This is the greatest playwright of all time!  Another film out there will focus on his writing process.  This isn’t it.  Anyway, he gives people writing advice from time to time. Shakespeare’s gardening process is important to the film.  One can look at it as a source for grieving.  If you’re not going to write, you’ve got to do something, right?!?

When we think of Shakespeare, we think of Old English being spoken.  We don’t think of lines like “hypocritical shit” but here we are.  There are other lines in the film that go for laughs, too.

All is True reflects on William Shakespeare’s legacy while reminding us that he’s only human.  While he is the greatest playwright that ever lived, he’s not perfect.

DIRECTOR:  Kenneth Branagh
CAST:  Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan

Sony Pictures Theaters opened All is True in theaters on May 10, 2019. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.