Film Review: All is True (UK, 2018) is a quiet look at Shakespeare in retirement

It’s fair to say that most people know Shakespeare and his plays. But, very little is known about the old Bard himself. All Is True is a bio-pic about ye olde William i.e. the writer in his twilight years. The result is a story that relies on some speculation and doesn’t always live up to its title.

Kenneth Branagh is an actor who is very well-acquainted with Shakespeare’s work. He stars here as the playwright and also directs. He dons a rather comical prosthetic nose and a rather fake-looking beard. In this garb, he looks just like a typical Shakespearian stereotype and all that was missing was the Tudor ruff.

Ben Elton is another person who is familiar with the Bard. His most recent endeavour, Upstart Crow takes a rather comical look at Will’s life. In this film however, he takes the opposite approach. This is a slow-burning and dramatic examination of this writer during his premature retirement. The reason for this exile was due to a series of unfortunate events.

In 1613 a fire during a performance of Henry VIII left the Globe Theatre as little more than ashes. This film’s title is also an alternative name for this particular Shakespearian play. This tragic incident saw the Bard retreat to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon to repair the broken relationship he had with the women in his life. These included his illiterate wife Anne (Judi Dench who is amazing and sassy, but perhaps a smidgen too old for this role) and his two daughters.

During this period, Shakespeare grieves the premature death of his son, Hamnet, even though some time has passed since the child’s death. His gifted daughter, Judith (Kathryn Wilder) is left reeling because the playwright – like most men during this time – favoured his son. His other daughter, Susannah (Lydia Wilson) has married a puritan and the latter isn’t very keen on his father-in-law. Sir Ian McKellen meanwhile, has a cameo as Henry Wriothesley.

The performances in this film are excellent but the story itself meanders a bit too much. There is quite a lot of navel-gazing and pondering, and you get the sense that this would suit a book more than a film. The proceedings could have been tightened with a swift edit. There is no question that Shakespeare was a genius but this – albeit beautifully-shot – film doesn’t always live up to the lofty heights of its subject.

All Is True is a pleasant-enough bio-pic. It is nicely-shot and rendered, and it certainly has some interesting moments, but the proceedings are a tad too episodic and sombre for its own good. Fans of Shakespeare might enjoy this look inside the famous artist’s mind, while others may be left wanting a much more rounded (or ahem, globe-like) portrait.


All is True opens in cinemas nationally on May 9th.