As Shakespeare fan fiction, All Is True is glorious; as a biopic, it's misleading and irresponsible. Screenwriter Ben Elton is known in the U.K. for his clever satirical series Upstart Crow, in which known facts from Shakespeare's life are incorporated into a comic vision of how the Bard's plays were conceived and created -- it's kind of like taking the Shakespeare in Love playbook and running in a different direction. To those on the other side of the pond, baking facts into a fictional it-could-have-happened dramatic piece makes for a delicious snack for Shakespeare devotees to devour and debate. But as those who grew up with Oliver Stone can attest, if the audience isn't aware that facts are being manipulated into a theory or fantasy, they think they're watching truth. And having modern cinema's leading authority on Shakespeare, Branagh (who transforms into the playwright with a nose that's an outright appendage), at the helm only lends credibility to the information that's being disseminated. Unlike Upstart Crow, this Will has more or less abandoned his family to pursue his fame and fortune, becoming a paycheck dad. And when he finally returns home as a middle-aged man, he's shocked at how much resentment has been boiling over from the women of his house; they feel he's dismissed them because of their gender. It's a fairly ugly view of the British poet, especially since it involves the utter humiliation of his loyal, patient wife.
While the script may not quite be on par with those of the world's greatest wordsmith, he'd still be wowed by the thespian ensemble of Branagh, Dench, and Ian McKellen. And the production design is a beautiful piece of art: The colors, the textures, the stillness, and the beauty are sumptuous; many of the shots look like paintings you might see hanging on a gallery wall. The cinematography is equally artistic, from shots tilted up from ground level to a distant image with one small moving figure crossing the screen. Extreme poetic license aside, the film's creativity and originality are -- to use a word Shakespeare coined -- bedazzling.