All Is True (2019)


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 DuchessJane Eyre, Tulip Feverand 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).

By my calculations, Judith would have been about 28-years-old when the story takes place, and even as an unmarried “spinster,” she likely would have been dressing her hair up and not letting it hang free. Women could only get away with loose hair for so long, even if they were unmarried.

As the unmarried, non-Puritan daughter, Judith has the most interesting clothes of all the women in the film. Here is her wedding gown, reflecting the early-17th-century high-waisted silhouette that was fashionable in 1613.

One of my favorite scenes in the film, the high table at Judith’s wedding.

Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare share a moment of levity in the garden.

Susanna, who is married to a Puritan, wears her hair half-up in a white linen coif, but the long front pieces are not correct for this era. The front pieces would have been shorter and more tightly curled historically. Then again, maybe Susana suffers from the same problem I have with my hair not wanting to hold a curl to save my life…

Another shot of Judith’s wedding day attire, including a side view showing the supportasse keeping her collar up. The loose gown looks similar to one in the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ian McKellen as Shakespeare’s enigmatic patron (and rumored lover), the Earl of Southampton.

Me, watching the film with my boyfriend: OMG I KNOW THIS TOMB. (It’s the memorial to Sir William Gerrard at the church of St. James the Less, Dorney Court, in Buckinghamshire.)

Family, amirite?


What did you think of All Is True? Share your thoughts in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

13 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Looks interesting. When will it be out? Or is it on Amazon?

  2. Jill

    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.

    • PrairieSquid

      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^.^

    • Sarah Lorraine

      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.

  3. Coco

    Counterpoint: Anonymous is unintentionally hilarious.

    (Upstart Crow is intentionally hilarious).

  4. Kristin Cooper Holtz

    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.

  5. IASHM

    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.

    • Sarah Walsh

      ME TOO!! I was completely stunned by how much he looks like Ben Kingsley!!