Review: Kenneth Branagh/Ben Elton Shakespeare film screens in Diss
PUBLISHED: 15:46 19 July 2019
On stage and screen, Kenneth Branagh has devoted a considerable amount of blood, sweat and iambic pentameter to ensuring Shakespeare’s plays are widely accessible.
His celebrated film adaptations of Henry V and Hamlet garnered Oscar nominations and a year-long season of plays at the Garrick Theatre in London in 2015 and 2016 included acclaimed productions of The Winter's Tale and Romeo And Juliet.
It should come as no surprise that Branagh juggles duties behind and in front of the camera for this intimate drama set in 1613, the year that the Globe Theatre in London burnt down during a performance of Henry VIII.
Scripted by Ben Elton, All Is True (12A) dramatises a twilight year in the Bard's life, when ghosts of the past literally and figuratively haunt the playwright in Stratford-upon-Avon as he contends with rivalry between his daughters and his shortcomings as a husband.
Historical rigour is tossed out of the window with a hey nonny nonny when it comes to casting. Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway was eight years older than her husband but here, she is portrayed with warmth by Dame Judi Dench.
Similarly, Henry Wriothesley, supposedly the "beautiful boy" in Shakespeare's gushing sonnets, is embodied with lip-smacking glee by a wigged Sir Ian McKellen. In reality, the third Earl of Southampton was nine years Shakespeare's junior.
As flames lick the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare (Branagh) gallops back to the heaving bosom of Warwickshire, where he is a stranger to his wife Anne and daughters Judith (Kathryn Wilder) and Susanna (Lydia Wilson).
Unable to write, Shakespeare turns his hand to creating a memorial garden to his deceased son Hamnet (Sam Ellis).
Adopting the alternative title of Henry VIII, All Is True doesn't let facts get in the way of spinning a melancholic yarn. Branagh sports facial prosthetics and make-up to achieve the distinctive profile of his scribe, who is weighed down with grief. Dench purses her lips as the illiterate spouse, who bears the deep wounds of her husband's infatuation with Wriothesley.
The mystery of Hamnet's death feels unnecessarily protracted but there is a satisfying pay-off to the intrigue.
- All Is True screens at Diss Corn Hall on July 24, 10.30am and 7.30pm, 01379 652241, disscornhall.co.uk