If Kenneth Branagh’s early pictures Henry V and Hamlet were about one-upping Laurence Olivier, then Branagh’s new Bard biopic All Is True is a love letter to their fellow Shakespeare acolyte, Orson Welles. The picture takes place in the last three years of the life of William Shakespeare (Branagh) at his family home in Stratford. Drama unfolds involving his neglected wife Anne (Judi Dench), as well as their married daughter Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and the unmarried Judith (Kathryn Wilder), who is still haunted by the death of her brother Hamnet (Sam Ellis) while William was away.
Working from a colloquial script by Upstart Crow creator Ben Elton, director Branagh keeps things moving at a spritely pace, and All Is True feels at times like a feature-length sequel to that television series. Branagh’s frequent use of low wide angles can’t help but evoke Welles’ favorite blocking, and a pivotal family scene shot in an unbroken, 3-minute deep-focus take by a ginormous fireplace plays like a direct homage to Citizen Kane’s Xanadu scenes. And if the picture is never quite as bawdy as Welles’ own Shakespeare pastiche Chimes at Midnight, Branagh the actor clearly relishes playing the Bard as a regular, gleefully profane guy. With All Is True, Branagh is serving two masters, and does both proud.
Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at the Clay Theatre.