To see it or not to see it, that is the question.
Kenneth Branagh has directed and starred in a few William Shakespeare adaptations, including “Hamlet” and “Henry V.” Now, his latest Shakespearian entry, “All is True,” has himself portraying the famous poet. Unfortunately, it isn’t as authentic or lively as it should have been. It’s more of a summary than a biography, and you end up stop caring for what goes on.
The movie shows us Shakespeare’s final years, when he stopped writing poems, following the destruction of Globe Theatre. And most of the show has him taking heat from his family (Judi Dench as his unlicensed wife Anne Hathaway, Helen Monks as his adultery-accused daughter Susanna, and Kathryn Wilder as his poetic daughter Judith) for spending less time with them and more on his plays. He decides to plant a garden in honor of his deceased son Hamnet (Sam Ellis), whom he has visions of seeing, and regrets not mourning him until the years that followed. He considered him a brilliant boy, but his twin sister Judith holds a secret about him.
Both Hamnet’s spirit and his old friend-the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen)-suggest he writes another play. He lets his reality finish the work for him.
The performances in “All is True” are fine, and Branagh looks and feels fabulous as Shakespeare. You also have some fine emotional work from Dench and Wilder, in the ways they scold Shakespeare for his choices and neglect on his family. And McKellen has a nice cameo, when he gives Shakespeare a poetic speech about his well-being.
The locations are also lovely. My favorites are the ponds and houses. The oxygen, the candle lights, and fireplaces. They make the scenery look and feel authentic, more so than the actual movie.
These are the bright sides of the movie.
But the biggest problem is its patience and soul. Most of the material and narrative here is presented as bland and tight. It runs for 100 minutes, and yet, the movie basically squeezes the stories as if some Shakespearean student was in a hurry to get his essay done on time.
It’s also bland when the dialogue goes on too long and feels empty. It was complicated for me to find the pure sonnets inside it all. This is more of an enigma, than a book.
Again, Branagh is an effective filmmaker, but I wanted a William Shakespeare movie with patience and studying, not a summary.