Wednesday, May 22, 2019

ALL IS TRUE: Kenneth Branagh's Will Shakespeare "take" does the Bard proud

As both actor and director, Kenneth Branagh (shown above, center, and below, has by now done so much filmed Shakespeare that it seems somehow only fitting that he should himself play the great guy in a movie. And so he does -- as Shakespeare during his final years -- in the splendid new ALL IS TRUE. The title seems immediately ironic on a number of levels, as we are told via info offered at film's beginning that this title was given initially to the Bard's play now known as Henry VIII, during a production of which, the Globe theatre, in which it was being performed, burned to the ground.

The irony is echoed again in a wonderful scene in which Will's intelligent and angry daughter Judith tells her father directly and unequivocally, "Nothing is true." (This would seem even more appropriate in our own age and the full-bore falsity of Donald Trump.)

And yet, in its own sweet and unhurried manner, Branagh's movie seems to this Shakespeare fan a  remarkable achievement in that it captures so beautifully time and place, character and event, and finally the utterly splendid and remarkable poetry the man was capable of in a scene of such perfection, it will probably be vimeo-ed and/orYouTubed into eternity. (More about that scene later.)

We meet our Will as he returns to the home and family he has cared for mostly at a distance during his long (for the times: most of his contemporaries are, or soon will be, dead) and successful career. That family includes his distant wife (the sublime Judi Dench, above)

and two daughters: the smart and angry Judith (Kathryn Wilder, above, left) and the loving and more submissive Susannah (Lydia Wilson, below). The Bard has given up playwriting -- writing of any sort, really -- and decided to create and tend a garden (he's not very good at it). But of course he becomes most involved in the family matters -- marriages, in-laws, and mostly past mistakes -- that continue to distance him from those he's supposed to love and care for.

The biggest of these matters has to do with the life and untimely death years ago of his son, Hamnet (Judith's twin), and what this finally means to him and the rest of the family. Nothing is hurried here, yet all of the events and themes are worked through believably, humorously and/or movingly, resulting in a work that celebrates the most significant writer (and probably mind) in world history in a manner that does him as much justice as could be managed in a 101-minute movie.

All is -- if not true -- quite wonderful. Yet two scenes stand out above the rest. One, as mentioned earlier, captures the beauty of the writing, as Branagh and Ian McKellen (left, playing the Earl of Southampton) chat and reminisce. Here, poetry, love, loss, class and position all merge so perfectly, with the two actors at the absolute tip-top of their form, that I suspect this perfect scene will survive as long as there's anyone left who appreciates great art.

The other scene involves Will's surprise visit by a younger fan, played with a gentle combination of sweetness, strength and sincerity by Phil Dunster (below). This fellow simply wants to meet the great writer and try to tell him how much his work has meant to him. But of course, in the presence of "greatness," he fumbles and meanders and finally asks, "How did you know? "How did I know what? Shakespeare asks back. And then the answer comes: "Everything."

Indeed. That's the question that's been asked over and over by so many other great minds -- as well as by all of us lesser souls who revere the Bard's work. How did he know people and politics, greed and ambition, love and lust, youth and age and everything in between so very well that it does seem as though, yes, he did know it all? And women, too (who befuddled even Freud). While Shakespeare wasn't much of a feminist, perhaps, he was surely forward-thinking for his time.

Mr. Branagh has given us quite a little gift here, and Shakespeare fans ought to partake. For those afraid that perhaps the language used will be "old English" and beyond their ken, worry not. Branagh and his fine screenwriter, Ben Elton, have made it all perfectly accessible. All Is True is a quiet joy.

From Sony Pictures Classics, the movie, after opening on our cultural coasts, is now expanding elsewhere around the country. Here in South Florida, it opens this Friday, May 24, and will play various theaters in the area, among them the O Cinema Miami, the Classic Gateway in Fort Lauderdale and the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. Wherever you live, click here and then click on GET TICKETS to discover theaters near you.

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