Kenneth Branagh ventures into favored Shakespeare territory once more with his film “All Is True,” highlighting the premier author’s grief in losing his son Hamnet, age 11. Though it has trappings of a PBS production with its lingering glances, its score and some melodramatic pauses, the intensity of Branagh is satisfying and authentic. The film makes a companion piece, albeit in a minor key, to the director’s more ambitious efforts.
Shakespeare (Branagh) feels he is at the end of his writing life. He is consumed by the death of his only son, who was a promising poet. The master-scribe’s only consolation is a garden, which he creates with the intensity of a play. At night, Shakespeare is berated by his twin daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder) who resents the son getting all the attention.
Anne (Judi Dench) is kept subservient. She is illiterate and would like to learn the alphabet. Anne, too, resents her situation. To make matters even worse, Shakespeare’s other daughter Susanna (Lydia Wilson) is facing an infidelity scandal. The famed author who changed the world, attempts nonchalance, tending to a memorial garden, but his face sours.
This is Shakespeare for #METOO to a degree. The revered author is no saint, conventional and sexist at his core.
A highlight in the film is Wilder who makes a vivid Shakespearean Tess of the d’Urbervilles, caustic and hissing, having no use for male dominance.
Will retires to the garden, later meeting with a supposed unrequited lover, Earl of South Hampton (Ian McKellen). One sees Branagh full of desire and loss as he recites the wondrous Sonnet 29.
According to Judith, Hamnet doesn’t deserve the height of a child prodigy, and nothing is as it seems. The grim scenario is akin to Edgar Allan Poe.
To be fair, much of the film is conjecture and unverified, perfect for an ironic film title. No matter. For the most part, it makes fine intrigue.
Whatever the case, fortune turns somewhat for the better, though twined with some gruesome circumstances.
Despite this, the author’s patriarchal and sexist shortcomings are suddenly off the hook. The tension gives way to comfort and everything is drawn up just so with a wedding and a satisfied Anne Hathaway, finally able to write her name as Mrs. Shakespeare.
Though the end fizzles, “All is True” has the temporary pathos of Thomas Hardy, while Branagh gives fine service to his favorite poet, with an incarnation that is half Zen and half Raven (as Will wanders about the graveyard) but all emotive with apropos, if not spontaneous, feeling.