Hollow Fan Service: Our Review of ‘All Is True’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - May 24, 2019
Hollow Fan Service: Our Review of ‘All Is True’

It’s safe to say that Sir Kenneth Branagh loves Shakespeare. After all, he directed some of the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s work on screen. He takes that love to a new level by directing himself as he plays the Bard on screen. In All Is True, Shakespeare has a long career as a playwright, but fate cut it short as his Globe Theater in London burns down. That means he has to return home to his wife Anne Hathaway (Dame Judi Dench). Both finally have time to mourn their son Hamnet’s (Sam Ellis) mysterious death.

Collaborating with screenwriter Ben Elton, Branagh shows some good things in fleshing out Shakespeare’s last years. Some of the Bard’s detractors characterize him as a misogynistic egomaniac, but this movie depicts the opposite of that. Portraying him as a sad sack is understandable, as well as showing the women in his life who understand his mourning for the most part. This is especially true for Anne. Shakespeare, by the way, is bisexual, and some LGBT allies see Anne negatively, which this film doesn’t do.

LGBT representation comes few and far between in depicting Shakespeare’s life. Branagh finally delivers that to us in a scene between the Bard and his lover, the Earl of Southampton (Sir Ian McKellen). This scene will have its fans the same way that there is a potential fan base for the scenes when William and Anne discuss their son. It also makes me feel bad for not memorize any Shakespeare. But all this is is actors quoting Shakespeare at each other and it goes on for too long. It’s surprising to see a scene doing both too much and too little.

The movie could have also done a better job at depicting Shakespeare’s last years. The characters have great potential here. Again, there’s that scene with the Earl and a few civil ones between William and Anne. But the dialogue between them sound a lot like historical fan fiction. Returning to his family means that he has circular arguments between him and his daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder). She’s Hamnet’s twin who, at the time, society considers a spinster. What also hurts these scenes is that Branagh and Wilder yell through them.

This movie is less about Shakespeare than his family of women, but that blessing has diminishing returns. Branagh pays some attention to the Bard’s other daughter, Susanna Hall (Lydia Wilson), who has an unhappy marriage with a Puritan, John (Hadley Freaser). That unhappiness leads to her having an affair and the exposure of that affair. And when they resolve that issue, it’s back to Shakespeare investigating who the real Hamnet was, which leads to more arguments with Judith.

And again, choosing Dench, an older woman, as a leading lady, is revolutionary even today. Both Dench and Branagh are playing characters slightly younger than they really are. But all of that, as well as the way the movie builds Anne’s character, leads to nothing, since the last scenes make Anne an obtuse implementer of conservative ideas instead of letting the truth about Hamnet out. It doesn’t help that her dialogue, as well as everyone else’s, is frustratingly repetitive. And Branagh’s visual decisions hinder and obscure this kitchen sink melodrama.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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