A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that All Is True is director Kenneth Branagh's exploration of William Shakespeare's final years, after he's returned to his family and hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. if you haven't done your homework on the Bard, the film can be hard to follow, with inside jokes that may not connect. It portrays the aged playwright (also Branagh) as a sexist, bisexual patriarch who's belatedly mourning the son who died 17 years prior, which could be upsetting to anyone who has lost a child or a sibling. Scandals ensue as Shakespeare's daughters, who feel they're a disappointment because of their gender, desperately try to give their dad a male heir -- but all the sex stuff is fairly veiled or indirect. Curse words ("s--t," "bitch") are used occasionally to punctuate strong emotion. The film sheds light on Elizabethan England, where Shakespeare's saucy scripts were welcomed in the big city, but in the Puritan stronghold of the rural countryside, a woman's only purpose was childbearing -- and only a harlot would wear a fabric with color.
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What's the story?
The later years of William Shakespeare's life are explored in ALL IS TRUE, which weaves together the small threads of fact that are available on the Bard into a fully imagined story. In 1613, following the destruction of the Globe theater, Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs) retires and returns to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon. But after so many years with him away, living and writing in London, his family feels neglected -- especially his wife, Anne (Judi Dench). And while he's trying to mend relationships at home, Shakespeare is also wrestling with his fame and legacy.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
The film takes the few facts that are known about Shakespeare and invents the circumstances, emotions, and character traits that might have accompanied them. What clues are you given in All Is True that what you're watching isn't necessarily a fully accurate biopic? When creating historical screenplays, writers often don't know what exactly was said or felt and have to create it: Where do you think the line is between creative license and misrepresentation?
Families can talk about the historical realities of life in Shakespeare's time. Were you surprised to hear that people were required to go to church or face a fine? How is being a woman today different from being a woman in the 1600s? How is life in general different now?
What do you think it might be like to be the child or spouse of a famous or very successful parent? Do you think it would be hard to develop your own identity?
Shakespeare tells an aspiring playwright that, to be good, he should search the contents of his soul and write what’s there -- that in doing so, he will find that "all is true." What does that mean to you, and how can you apply that to your own writing?
- In theaters: May 10, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: August 13, 2019
- Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench
- Director: Kenneth Branagh
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, suggestive material and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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