All Is True
by actor/director Kenneth Branagh
Can a genius be an ‘ordinary’ person?
Is it even an appropriate question to ask?
William Shakespeare fits my idea of what constitutes an artistic genius, and in a career spent working on his plays, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what he was like as a man.
All Is True explores what might have happened towards the end of his life when Shakespeare himself was possibly considering such questions.
Certainly the works he produced before his so-called ‘retirement’ back to his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon contains profound reflection on the human condition.
In his case he is particularly preoccupied with family, and family dynamics—perceived betrayal, and ingratitude.
Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died aged 11. He was twin to Judith, and younger brother to Susanna. Shakespeare and his wife Anne lost their son in 1596, and in plays before and after, Shakespeare writes about twins separated and reunited, and about the loss of children, and the aching pain that follows, and will not leave.
Hamnet’s death was our point of departure for this film.
It was written by Ben Elton, a brilliant comic writer, and performer, whose first screen drama this was. The drama is human and humane, but in Ben’s hands, humorous too.
Our goal was to confront Shakespeare with his own family’s response to Hamnet’s death, and to many other critical elements of their lives.
Shakespeare had been a largely absent husband and father. Before his return home he had spent the best part of twenty years far away in London, becoming the greatest poet of the age.
Rumours abounded about his possible infidelities.
His wife, and one of his daughters, could neither read nor write.
Trying to become a family again would be difficult.
Especially as the facts of Shakespeare’s life in so-called retirement make for the stuff of high drama.
The public records of the time tell us that both daughters were caught up in public sexual scandals. He was involved in controversial land deals. The Puritans were trying to overturn the church in the town.
If he was indeed ready to reflect on what the life of a genius adds up to, it was not attempted in an atmosphere of peace. Rather, in one of hectic incident, anger and intrigue.
In this context, Shakespeare and his family struggle to reconcile what it takes to live in any family, not just one with a genius in residence. And as an audience I believe that we recognise and are perhaps inspired and comforted by a poignant recognition. "To hold as ‘twere, a mirror up to nature".
This film suggests that the tender heart of his own ‘ordinary’ life may have been the very place where the genius of William Shakespeare was born.