In His New Film, Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Stars As The Bard Himself Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in All Is True as Shakespeare in his final years, with Judi Dench as his wife.
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In His New Film, Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Stars As The Bard Himself

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In His New Film, Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Stars As The Bard Himself

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In His New Film, Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Stars As The Bard Himself

In His New Film, Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Stars As The Bard Himself

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Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in All Is True as Shakespeare in his final years, with Judi Dench as his wife.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh achieved international fame starring onscreen in Shakespeare's "Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Hamlet." Now, rather than playing in Shakespeare, Branagh is starring as Shakespeare in a film called "All Is True." It has a cast that critic Bob Mondello says is a midwinter's night dream come true.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We begin with flames as London's Globe Theatre burns to the ground on June 29, 1613. A prop cannon was the culprit. It misfired during the first act of Shakespeare's 37th play, "Henry VIII," which had been advertised under its alternate title, "All Is True." It was not a great play, but it would be the bard's last. And the movie supposes that he retired to his home in Stratford, his revels now more or less ended, to deal with his rather difficult family and, perhaps most of all, to get away from his own celebrity.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL IS TRUE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I don't want to pester you.

KENNETH BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) Good, excellent news, cheerio.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I just wanted to ask you...

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) The best way to get started as a writer is to start writing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) No, really, could I just...

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) I don't have a favorite play. I admire all my fellow dramatists equally. And, yes, I do think women should be allowed to perform the female roles as is the practice on the continent now. Please, if you'll excuse me...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I just wanted to ask how you knew.

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) Knew what?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Everything.

MONDELLO: The bard protests that he doesn't even know how to rid his garden of slugs. And though he doesn't tell his visitor, his celebrated knowing everything about human nature isn't helping much with his family. His wife, Anne, having barely seen him in recent years, gently deflects him at her bedroom's door.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL IS TRUE")

JUDI DENCH: (As Anne Hathaway) To us, you're a guest. And a guest must have the best bed. Rest well.

MONDELLO: His younger daughter has married a puritan who is morally opposed to theaters but wouldn't mind inheriting from a famously theatrical in-law. And his older daughter is angry at the world and at the father who placed all his hopes in her brother Hamnet, not in her. Playwright, author and comedian Ben Elton penned the script - I'm going to imagine he used a quill pen for this one - and has sort of reverse-engineered it to explain why Shakespeare might have spent the second half of his career writing so often about twins, the loss of children, problems with daughters and couples forever holding each other to account about love's licit and illicit, like the fair youth Shakespeare wrote so sweetly about in his sonnets.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL IS TRUE")

DENCH: (As Anne Hathaway) Suppose you thought 'cause I couldn't read I wouldn't mind.

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) Anne, those sonnets were published illegally without my knowledge or my consent.

DENCH: (As Anne Hathaway) But you wrote them, Will, and people read them. And after they'd read them, they kept asking, who are they? Who is this dark lady so in love with...

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) They were just poems.

DENCH: (As Anne Hathaway) ...The handsome man?

BRANAGH: (As William Shakespeare) They were just poems.

DENCH: (As Anne Hathaway) Don't answer. I didn't want to know then, and I don't want to know now. But I know who some people said he was. Now it appears he's come into my house a-calling.

MONDELLO: Judi Dench is pretty sublime as Anne. And when it turns out to be Ian McKellen who's coming to her house a-calling, well, he steals the show for a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL IS TRUE")

IAN MCKELLEN: (As Henry Wriothesley) I have grown old, as you've said in your sonnets that I would, you bastard. But the beauty I inspired in you will be forever young. And in a thousand years from now when people read those lines, I will be young, alive still in the hearts of others yet unborn.

MONDELLO: Though it's very different in mood, "All Is True" feels like a bookend of sorts for "Shakespeare In Love," a film that was raucous, comic and youthful. This one is contemplative, an elegy that director Branagh has conceived as a kind of summing up filled with falling leaves and splendid actors who strut and fret their minutes on the screen that we might hear them more.

Branagh's makeup artists, Stratford-upon-Avon calling perhaps, have turned him into a good likeness of the bard's portraits. And when he and McKellen recite the same poetic passage but find completely different meanings, well, the theater critic in me was in heaven. It's a conversation that almost certainly never took place. But like much of this film's dialogue, it's a feast for the ear. And that makes me disinclined to worry too much about what is true in "All Is True." I'm Bob Mondello.

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