Friday, 15 February 2019

Branagh examines his hero’s failings

Branagh examines his hero’s failings

IF you could pick anyone to play William Shakespeare in a film that actor would be Kenneth Branagh.

Indeed, the Bard has been ever present throughout his career on both stage and screen.

What perhaps is a surprise is that Branagh hasn’t done so already and even more so that in All is True the focus is on the final years of Shakespeare’s career rather than a major biopic of his life.

All is True is the alternative title appended to his play Henry VIII which was the final production staged at the Globe theatre when it burned down mid-show in 1613 when a stage cannon caught fire.

Shakespeare takes this as an opportunity to leave the city and return home to Stratford to his wife Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench) and his daughters, the married Susannah (Lydia Wilson) and the older but single Judith (Kathryn Wilder).

But although longing for a peaceful retirement after years of fame and success he is now forced to confront his failures as a husband and father as well as contend with his long-suppressed feelings of grief about the death of his son Hamnet 17 years before.

Branagh paints a witty and touching, yet haunted picture of his historical icon but in so doing, provides a more introspective examination of his character akin to a human drama as he wrestles with the guilt associated with his family.

Dench is more than equal to Branagh and Wilder impresses as the guilt-ridden Judith while an extended cameo from Ian McKellen as the flamboyant but sentimental Earl of Southampton is also a joy to watch.

Much has been said about Branagh’s directing in that he tends to push himself to the forefront of each film he appears in but here he also lets his supporting cast enjoy some time in the spotlight. But what is less successful is in the way it displays the drama found within writer Ben Elton’s witty and passionate script.

Some of the theatrical elements that Branagh employs as a filmmaker don’t quite come off, such as when the characters enter and leave each scene while the spectral form of Hamnet appears a little too often, falling into the trap of too much style over substance.

However, what we have here is a genuinely
thought-provoking look at Shakespeare at an interesting point in his life supported by some stand-out performances.

All is True is now showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse cinema.

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