All is True (2019; Kenneth Branagh)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens on Friday, June 14, at the Tower Theatre in Sacramento.
“Flavorless Yet Vainglorious”
Vintage shameless Branagh, borderline unwatchable, but also a weirdly perfect cap to a career built on flavorless yet vainglorious Shakespeare adaptations. It makes perfect sense that at this stage of his career, Branagh would reach for some twinkly-eyed, Shakespeare in Love-style shit, and still come up short.
Branagh both directs and stars as William Shakespeare in the last years of his life. He piles on the wigs and latex to play the great playwright because God knows his acting alone would not suffice.
All is True takes its name from the alternate title for Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s final play. The Globe Theatre burned to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, which is where this drama begins.
“Judi Dench, Of Course”
An absentee Shakespeare returns to his estate in the country, reconnecting with his estranged wife (Judi Dench, of course). He finally mourns a son who died a decade earlier, reopening old wounds his family forgot about long ago. Meanwhile, he deals with family intrigue regarding his two daughters–one the philandering wife of a selfish jerk, the other a bitter spinster at 22 years old.
A fitful interest in various types of storytelling, from fictions and flashbacks to lies and gossip, drifts throughout All is True. Of course, the film doesn’t do anything interesting with it, preferring to dither from one blackout scene to the next. All is True is extremely quiet and sleepy throughout, although I doubt anyone who dozes through this dud will mind.
The narrative never finds momentum, while everyone in Ben Elton’s script monologues in plot points and character details. As ever, Branagh directs without personality or control, cribbing every semi-inspired moment from better films.
The entire cast indulges in monotone “big acting,” but Branagh outdoes them all. Naturally, Branagh gifts himself a showstopping, awards-grubbing, shouting-his-feelings scene, as well as one of the most idiotic cough-sick-dead sequences in cinema history.
All is True gasps through the reveal of some “dark” family secrets, but only one sequence deviates from a sedate formula. Out of nowhere, Ian McKellan enters the film as Harry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, paying his old friend Shakespeare a visit. Even by its slowpoke standards, All is True comes to a screeching halt for McKellan. However, he preens and overacts so much better than Branagh that you never mind.
Although McKellan dominates the movie for ten minutes, he obviously shot all of his scenes in a few hours. He doesn’t share a second of screen time with Branagh, even when their two characters share a tender moment. When it’s over, McKellan departs and the film returns to its self-satisfied lethargy. It’s a pointless oasis in a pointless desert.