Review: Branagh is Shakespeare, finally, in 'All is True'

Kenneth Branagh plays William Shakespeare, the role he's been building toward his entire career, in this quiet, affecting look at the Bard's final years

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Kenneth Branagh in "All is True."

When Kenneth Branagh steps on screen as William Shakespeare in "All is True," it's a career moment: Here is Branagh, Hollywood's foremost Shakespeare obsessive, finally playing the Bard himself.

After appearing in and/or directing screen versions of "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Othello," "Hamlet," "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Macbeth," playing Shakespeare is Branagh realizing his life's destiny, and he dives in with zeal.

"All is True" brings Shakespeare to life, grounds him, and demystifies the legend of history's greatest playwright. It's a loving and often humorous work, and Branagh — who also directs, of course — shows viewers a quiet, reflective Shakespeare, away from the limelight in his final years.

Branagh opens in 1613, after a fire destroys London's Globe Theatre during a performance of "Henry VIII," known at the time as "All is True." Shakespeare vows to never write again, and returns home to Stratford where he takes up, er, gardening.

Judi Dench plays Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway (not that Anne Hathaway), while Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder play his two daughters. Bill is still torn up about the death of his son years earlier, which he never fully internalized, and his return home brings up unresolved feelings. 

A few guests swing by the estate for a visit, including Ian McKellen, who offers up a deliciously catty, award-worthy cameo as the Earl of Southampton. But mostly what "All is True" does is give viewers is a fresh look at Shakespeare, behind the guise, flaws and all. And if ever there was a man for that job, it's Branagh. 

'All is True'


Rated PG-13: for thematic elements, suggestive material and language

Running time: 101 minutes