Review: ALL IS TRUE Is Truly Over-Indulgent

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 is a film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. The movie tells the story of the final days in the life of poet and playwright William Shakespeare as he retires to his hometown to spend his last days with his family. It has played at festivals including the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2019 Florida Film Festival.

This film’s story is a complete and utter disappointment. Shakespeare is considered by many to be one of the greatest literary minds of all time, and Branagh is a mostly well-respected Shakespearean actor, yet this is the biopic we get? The script offers little more than bland melodrama centering around gender politics at the time. However, the writer was so obsessed with trying to recapture Shakespeare’s style that he lost any element of realism or emotional attachment.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that it simply isn’t as interesting as it should be. The runtime is a relatively short hour and forty-one minutes, but it feels much longer because the story is so poorly-paced. When the most exciting part of a film is a single argument, there is an issue. The movie needed to make the conflict more sustained and consequential to the characters. There’s no way that dramatic liberties weren’t taken with this film, so why not take some more?

Another prominent flaw that the movie has is a lack of character development. Branagh’s films, especially those in which he plays the protagonist, typically have this issue. The movie seems to be designed to do nothing more than praise Shakespeare. Although we know that he isn’t a saint, the film seems to gloss over many of his flaws, instead glorifying him and his actions. Furthermore, none of the supporting characters are particularly well-written or interesting.

Left to right: Kathryn Wilder as Judith Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare. Photo by Robert Youngson. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The movie message is interesting, but is unfortunately lost among the frustrating subplots and tangents on which the film often diverges. There is some interesting commentary on the meaning of truth that really ties the movie into modern relevance. However, this message would have been even more effective had the inclusion of it been more logical and consistent rather than the on-the-nose and sporadic way in which it appears.

Branagh was able to assemble a massively talented ensemble for the film, but he is too busy hogging the spotlight that he doesn’t allow them any room to shine. Ian McKellen has a solid but extremely small bit part, and Judi Dench is strong in her supporting role. The movie would have been far more interesting had their characters been given more to do. Branagh’s roots as a theatre actor are obvious in this film, as he is over-the-top and nearly ridiculous in a theatrical way.

On a technical level, the movie mostly succeeds. Much of the film was shot in Buckinghamshire in England, and the natural beauty of the scenery really shines through. That being said, Branagh’s style is very safe and straightforward, not offering a lot aesthetically apart from the beautiful scenery in the background. It would have been nice if he had infused some creativity into the execution, as this would have gone a long way in letting the movie do justice to the Bard’s story.

Overall, All Is True was not a particularly good film. Although it will likely have its fair share of fans, it offers very little more than an extremely bland and fan-fiction-like retelling of the Bard of Avon’s final days.

All is True is now playing in select theaters.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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