*. It’s a sad fact that live theatre is a senior circuit, the audience at most plays looking a lot like the deck of a cruise ship, with only the cast and crew being under the age of fifty.
*. In my experience productions of Shakespeare skew even older. So a movie about Shakespeare’s retirement (think lots of gardening) would at least seem to be going after the right target audience. Shakespeare in Love meets On Golden Pond.
*. That sounds bad, but All Is True is actually worse than that. In the first place, this really is a dewy, sentimental tale that doesn’t take any risks. Kenneth Branagh is magically transformed, but Ben Elton has left him mouthing lines like “I’ve lived so long in imaginary worlds, I think I’ve lost sight of what is real, of what is true.” Do you get it? As for advice to an aspiring playwright, the world’s greatest has this to offer: “Do you want to be a writer, and speak to others and for others? Speak first for yourself. Search within. Consider the contents of your own soul. Your humanity. And if you’re honest with yourself, then whatever you write, all is true.”
*. This is bad enough, but as I say it gets worse. This is very much a Shakespeare for our own time, which means we get a political message, or several political messages, delivered. Chief among these is the feminist line.
*. If you’ve read Virginia Woolf’s 1928 essay “Shakespeare’s Sister” then you’ll know what to expect. As the movie begins Will, newly retired, is still mooning over the death of his son Hamnet, who he thinks might have grown up to become a great poet. This has led him to neglect his daughter Judith, who in fact wrote Hamnet’s childhood poetry. But as Judith says, “A daughter is nothing. They’re destined only to become the property of another man or fade away. . . . A woman cannot be a poet. A woman is put on this earth for one reason.” Did you get all that? It isn’t subtle.
*. Then for no real reason whatsoever the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) shows up and Will declares his love for him, which is reciprocated but can never be consummated. Not so much because it’s the love that dare not speak its name but because of the class divide.
*. I don’t know why they had to drag McKellen in for the part, as he’s twice as old as the actual Southampton. But then Dench is a quarter-century older than Branagh and she’s playing his wife (Anne Hathaway was only six years older than Shakespeare). Apparently the first time Branagh and Dench worked together was on a production of Ibsen’s Ghosts when he played her son. I get the sense that Dench and McKellen were just Big Names known to Shakespeare lovers so they were sort of obliged to make an appearance.
*. No need to spend more time on this one. It starts out dull and ends up being dull, crude, sappy, and bathetic. I didn’t like it at all.