There’s been a handful of Shakespeare biopics in recent years, and not many of them have looked inspiring enough for me to want to invest time and energy into writing a post about them. On the extreme end, you have Anonymous (2011) which is basically propaganda for the anti-Stratfordian contingent, which argues that no mean son of a glover could have possibly written such expansive plays about the human condition, and advances conspiracy-theory-levels of mental gymnastics to explain how any number of more exalted personages, from Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, to Queen Elizabeth I and/or one of her supposed bastard children were behind the authorship of said plays (DO NOT GET ME STARTED) … to the goofy Bill (2015), which is more of a successor to the Carry On… shows of the 1960s and 1970s than a serious attempt at telling the Bard’s life story. And somewhere in between exists Upstart Crow (2016), a comedy series written by Ben Elton of Blackadder fame, who incidentally also wrote the subject of this post, All Is True.
Ben Elton teamed up with one of the greatest actors of our age, Kenneth Branagh, and between the two of them managed to bring to life a human-sized Will Shakespeare, recently forced into retirement (after a fire destroyed the Globe Theatre, because only a force of nature was going to stop Shakespeare, natch) and thus compelled to return to his home of Stratford-Upon-Avon and a family made up of virtual strangers to him.
In true Blackadder-fashion, Elton manages to humanize the myth with gentle humor, a little pathos, and a lot of irony, surrounding Will Shakespeare (Branagh) with a dysfunctional family made up of his enduring wife Anne (played by the always perfect Dame Judi Dench) and his two adult daughters; the brilliant but wildly underestimated Judith (Kathryn Wilder), and perfect-on-the-surface Susanna (Lydia Wilson). Undercutting everyone’s lives is the tragic death of Judith’s twin brother, Hamnet, and the plot centers around Shakespeare’s delayed grieving for the son he lost over 20 years before but was too busy with the meteoric trajectory of his career to properly mourn, and the frustration of his three remaining family members as they deal with their own feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and frustration with Will’s arrival upending their lives.
But lest you think that All Is True is a bummer of a movie, it is actually quite the opposite, demonstrating that no matter how frustrating family can be, it is also affirming to have, for lack of a better word, a tribe. And augmenting this genteel comedy of manners are some really lovely, understated early-17th-century costumes designed by the master of understated quality historical costuming, Michael O’Connor (The Duchess, Jane Eyre, Tulip Fever, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day).
Though, in true modern film style, the women’s hair is kinda … not great. Lots of beachy waves and loose, flowing mermaid hair, which makes for pretty hairstyles but isn’t in any way historically accurate. But we can’t blame that on O’Connor (not his department).
What did you think of All Is True? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Looks interesting. When will it be out? Or is it on Amazon?
It’s available on Youtube or Google Play for $5.99. Also on Amazon Prime streaming, if you have that, for $4.99.
Thanks. I do have Amazon Prime.
It’s available on Amazon Prime, but I think only to purchase at this point and not to rent.
I’m so looking forward to this! I love Upstart Crow, Brannagh and Dench are favorites, and the costuming looks good.
I can’t comment objectively because I live in blinking Laramie, Wyoming where an art film has to make at least $100 million before anyone here will screen it. Argh…. I hate waiting for films to come out on some streaming service I don’t have or scheduling a weekend trip to Denver to see them. Alas and alack.
Howdy neighbor! I’m in Casper…never thought I’d run into a fellow Wyoming Frock Flick-er! A comment above lists where you can get it streaming (which is what I plan to do, as Casper is just as bad for ‘culture’), which is really helpful. Hope you get to see it and enjoy it^.^
If you have Amazon Prime, I believe it’s available for purchase right now for something like $19.99. Otherwise, give it a bit longer and it will probably come up for rental soon.
oooh this looks like fun
Counterpoint: Anonymous is unintentionally hilarious.
(Upstart Crow is intentionally hilarious).
I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema. Sentimental bit totally enjoyable. Ian McKellen and Kenneth Branagh sharing sonnets completely choked me up. The cast is totally believable, visually stunning, thanks for your thoughts on hairdos etc.
I enjoyed it. I had hoped it would be funnier but that’s mainly because of Ben Elton writing it. Loved the natural lighting and I thought they did a good job of making Branagh look like Shakespeare. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it was Ben Kingsley.
ME TOO!! I was completely stunned by how much he looks like Ben Kingsley!!