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Film Of The Week Branagh true to form in Bard biopic

The actor and director's enduring passion for Shakespeare shines through a tender film on his final years, says MARIA DUARTE

All Is True (12A)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
 

KENNETH BRANAGH’S fascinating depiction of the Bard’s twilight existence opens in 1613 with Shakespeare  — an unrecognisable Branagh, in a role he was born to play — watching in horror as his beloved Globe Theatre burns to the ground.

It happens during the first production of All Is True, the alternative title of his play Henry VIII, and in devastation he returns to Stratford-upon-Avon to his wife Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench) and two daughters (Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder), whom he has barely seen in the past 20 years.

To hammer the point home, Hathaway offers him the guest bedroom with its the best bed — he is indeed a guest in his own house.
 
He also mourns the death of his only son Hamnet when he was 11 years old and decides to create a memorial garden in his name.

Branagh, who directs, and screenwriter Ben Elton take a few known facts about the Bard at this time and fill in the gaps to deliver a family drama full of warmth and humour, scandal and surprising twists.

It depicts Shakespeare as a genius playwright but a flawed man who has difficulty dealing with retirement, while his family find it equally hard to adjust to his presence 24/7.

His constant eulogising of his son’s promising gift for poetry causes increasing tension with his unmarried youngest twin daughter Judith (Wilder), who’s suffering both survivor’s guilt and the inequality of her sex in a society which valued sons over daughters.

Dench is sublime as the acerbic and long-suffering wife who delivers a few home truths to her renowned husband, including her humiliation at the inspiration for his sonnets and his secret passion for the Earl of Southampton, played magnificently by Sir Ian McKellen in a film-stealing scene.

With its stunningly shot landscape, this is a rich and captivating labour of love by Branagh and the  underlying issues the film raises still resonate.

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