Kenneth Branagh charts the last few years of Shakespeare’s life in All Is True.

Certificate: 12A
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Lead cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder,
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Charlotte Harrison

There’s a prevailing sense here that this is Branagh’s cinematic equivalent of going on a jolly one summer. Last year, Judi Dench was one of four dames to appear in the documentary Nothing Like A Dame, which was essentially the foursome reminiscing about their lives over cups of tea. This is sort of the fictional variant, with Branagh being able to hang out with his favourite people while returning to the foundation of his career – William Shakespeare.

And the end result isn’t too shabby. The title ‘All Is True’ refers to the advice The Bard gives an ardent fan who’s followed him to his escape back to the country. On 29th June 1613, The Globe Theatre burned down during Act 1 Scene 4 of Henry VIII. It was to be Shakespeare’s last play and the one that encouraged him to return home, after 20 years away. The advice he gives is in answer to the fan questioning how William knew and created so much, given that he left school at 14 and never travelled.

Shakespeare’s answer also sums up the ethos of the film itself. It’s founded on truth with a degree of artistic licence. It makes for compelling watching. If 2015’s terrific Bill (made by the team behind Horrible Histories) is about a young Shakespeare on the come-up, this film is about the man on his way down. The plot is simple, watching him play out his final years and self-inflicted retirement, during which he simply goes to work on the garden.

Comprised of one part history lesson, one part fan fiction and one part family drama, it’s an immensely pleasant way to spend 100 minutes. Watching it is like sitting in a really comfy leather club chair – you know you’re in safe hands as you’re seeing familiar faces bring the history books to life. Branagh is the star of the show, equipped with a prosthetic nose that transforms his visage into the face of Shakespeare’s best-known portrait. There are little nods here and there, such as a man in possession of yellow stockings à la Twelfth Night, along with some more explicit references, such as when Branagh and a bewigged Ian McKellen recite sonnets while lamenting long ago youth. It’s the film’s most powerful scene and one that epitomises it well.

An elegy about love, loss and longing. One that’s poetic in its truth and its heart.

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