We are told at the start of All is true that during the first run of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII in 1613, a special effect cannon caused a fire that destroyed the Globe theatre. Henry VIII was Shakespeare’s last play, we are told. All is true was Henry VIII‘s alternative title. Shakespeare (Branagh) retires to his house in Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench). During his long career as a playwright/actor, he ignored his family. Anne is a few years older than him. At 84, Judi Dench is a very old 57 years old woman. Judith (Kathryn Wilder), his unmarried, sharp-tongued daughter, is bitter about her father’s absence. She is still mourning the death of Hamnet, her twin brother, who died at 10 years of age. Shakespeare is sometimes visited by the ghost of his dead son. It’s a clever reversal of Hamlet, here the ghost of the son appears to the father. Susanna (Lydia Wilson), his older daughter is married to Puritan John Hall. Oh, and she may be having a scandalous affair with another man. All Shakespeare really wants is peaceful life and to work on a garden honoring Hamnet. With the coming of the Earl of Southampton (a lively but too short appearance by Ian McKellen), Anne has to question her husband. Is it true that Shakespeare and the Earl were lovers? Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are about his love of another man. There are excellent production values (set, costumes, cinematographer) and great acting, in particular from McKellen and Wilder. All is true suffers from a lack of excitement and a slowness in the early scenes. But it later recovers to give us a touching film about the last years of a brilliant writer. I’m not sure if “all is true”, but does it really matter. Your choice.
Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from June 21 – 28
All is true