Tuesday, July 2, 2019

"All Is True"

(Which was original title of Shakespeare’s last play “Henry VIII”, co-opted, ironically, as the title of this Shakespearian “biopic”, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.)

Reading Bill Bryson’s biography of William Shakespeare, I learned that, in his will, Shakespeare left his widowed wife the family’s “second-best bed.”  (Though it did not say whom the family’s best bed went to.)

I also learned that, earlier in life, Shakespeare penned a book of love sonnets, dedicated to “W.H.”, who is believed to have been William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, leading to suspicions of clandestine “guy-guy” shenanigans.

Both of those interesting factoids, and the mystery of how such an untutored fellow could know so much about so much, appear in Kenneth Branagh’s film All Is True, making me wonder, as I inevitably do about films “based on actual events”, how much of the movie is true and how much is manipulatively contrived. 

Unfortunately, while seeing the movie, I did not have an accredited Shakespeare-ologist along to help distinguish the factual wheat from the fictional chaff.   So I am stuck with not knowing.

Okay.  So there’s that, influencing my response to the movie.

And there is the teasing title, All Is True, “playing” me right from the get-go.  The film opens with a famous portrait of Shakespeare, which I learned from Bryson’s biography may not actually have been Shakespeare.  We then see Kenneth Branagh, made up exactly like the portrait.  So there’s this actor, uncannily resembling a portrait of Shakespeare, which may in fact have been somebody else. 

On top of all that, All Is True, originally released in late 2018 in hopes of some Oscar nominations, a strategy garnering, let me look……………………………….

no Oscar nominations…

was playing at our local Santa Monica theater to, including myself and my spousal companion,

…. seven audience members.

So there is that issue as well.  You know the infectious “buzz” you sense before the start of an acclaimed and popular hit movie?

In this case, it was exactly the opposite.

“You are not going to like this.  Nobody else does.”

So there you have it.  A cinematic “biopic”, whose existence as a “genre” reflexively revolts me, a provocative title daring me to guess how much of the picture is true, and a thunderous snubbing by the moviegoing public at large.

Those were the obstacles I faced, encountering All Is True.

And yet I loved it.


I’m a contradictory galoot, aren’t I?

Beautiful English settings, magical lakes and woodlands – possibly inspiring Shakespeare’s frequent “forest” motifs, though ignorance impedes me from further comparisons.  (And, in fact, the one I impulsively offered could easily be wrong.)

And then there’s the story:

A man, plying his trade in big-city London, retires to his ancestral village, hoping to reconnect with the family he virtually abandoned for twenty years, writing those plays.

A decent fellow, the guy depicted in this movie.  Minimally “puffed up” from being the greatest playwright of his time.  He’s just trying to fit in, humbly starting a garden.  Though the process is rough – he’s a writer, not a tiller of the soil; a man can’t be everything – his horticultural forays are not nearly as punishing as the rocky reception experienced at home.  As in,

“We hate you, William ‘smarty-pants’ Shakespeare!”

Then there are the dark family secrets, leaked out, one after another.  Although our protagonist did no deliberate harm, the peripheral harm requires ultimate acknowledging, past-due amends needing healingly to be made.  Fortunately, all’s well that ends well.  (I wish that was mine.  It’s so deliciously a propos.)         

Cliché moments?  There are admittedly too many.  Like the staged scene where Shakespeare drenches the town snob in cascading accomplishments.  Added to such unlikely interludes are questionable anecdotes, one, concerning the quill-sharpening penknife Shakespeare intended to “gift” his son but didn’t, the son dying while Will was in London.  That one’s conveniently suspect to me.  And conspicuously “artsy”, as well. 

But who knows?  Maybe someone chronicled the “knife story” four hundred years ago, and it fell fortuitously into the screenwriter’s hands.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

All in all, All Is True – a tastefully sweet movie in a beautiful locale.

As the revered “Cookie Monster” famously sang, in an alphabetical context,

That’s good enough for me.

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