All is True – Branagh & Dench are magnificent in this film which seeks to explain the great mystery of why Shakespeare retired so suddenly

All is True (12A)

Kenneth Branagh’s career is so closely associated with Shakespeare, it was perhaps inevitable that he would one day play the man himself. To that extent this is very much Branagh’s film, though Ben Elton’s unusually sombre screenplay is such a masterful, clever and erudite work, it’s hard to know quite where the plaudits should go.

Elton’s solution to the great mystery of Shakespeare’s sudden retirement is blunt and brilliantly conceived – the Globe burned down and he had nowhere to put on this plays, so he went home and did the garden instead. Anti-Stratfordians will no doubt fume at the banality of this rationale, but that is what is so clever about his script. Shakespeare is portrayed as a painfully ordinary man, who had troublesome off spring and a long suffering wife – his day job just happened to be that of the greatest playmaker of all time. Branagh is quietly magnificent, despite an ill-advised prosthetic nose, while Judi Dench effortlessly steals every scene she is in.

The film’s great reveal is a bit of stretch, but then so were Shakespeare’s. Along the way, we are treated to detail that will satisfy the sternest of Shakespeare nerds, and the film is nonetheless accessible to all. You don’t need to have heard of Green, or Kyd, or Spencer, to understand this was a man born in an astonishing time when theatre was effectively invented, and that he was the greatest among greats. Highly recommended.

By David Vass