William Shakespeare relied on a collaborator when he wrote the historical play “Henry VIII.” Even though this look at England’s second Tudor monarch was originally titled “All Is True,” the play deliberately ignores the beheading of Ann Boleyn, nor does it mention Henry’s following four wives.
By the time “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies” (known as The First Folio) was published in 1623, the name of the play had changed to “Henry VIII.”
The play got off to a bad start. During one of its early performances, a cannon shot accidentally set the Globe Theater’s thatched roof on fire, burning the dramaturgical structure to the ground.
Now, that title – “All Is True” – has been appropriated for a movie about William Shakespeare starring Kenneth Branagh.
Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh is a Northern Irish actor, director, producer, and screenwriter who was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He has directed and starred in several movies based on Shakespeare’s plays – “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Otello,” “Hamlet,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and “As You Like It.”
You’ve probably seen Branagh in such non-classical fare as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “My Week With Marilyn,” Marvel’s “Thor,” and Disney’s live-action “Cinderella,” among many others.
This week “All Is True” continues to strut and fret its hour (actually 1 hour 41 minutes) upon the stage at Tropic Cinema.
The storyline follows Shakespeare’s return to his home at Stratford-upon-Avon after the Globe’s conflagration in 1613.
Here, we have Shakespeare (Branagh) facing off against his wife Anne Hathaway (Dame Judi Dench). She has gotten along just fine having an absentee husband. However, she invites him to take the best bed – minus her.
Along the way we meet his daughters Susanna and Judith (Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder), both vying to inherit the family fortune.
Like any out-of-work writer, Willie falls into a funk. Vowing never to write again, he spends much of his time brooding about the death of his son Hamnet, Judith’s twin. Rather than turning to booze, he takes up gardening.
The Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) drops by to visit his old friend. The Earl rejects Shakespeare’s advances, with the two old fops reciting poetry at each other. A battle of the sonnets, you might say.
One moviegoer summed it up this way: “There’s a much better film hidden in the contours of ‘All Is True.’ A darker story examining Shakespeare’s psychology; his inability to process the death of his son Hamnet, his guilt over the fact that he put his career ahead of his family, his possible misogyny, his obsession with his legacy.”
Fact is, not much is actually known about Shakespeare’s later years, but Ben Elton’s speculative script doesn’t get bogged down with worrying about factual history any more than the Bard’s “Henry VIII” did.
Maybe that’s why Shakespeare and his collaborator John Fletcher dumped the “This Is True” title. It’s like that old saying goes: Never let facts get in the way of a good story.
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