Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Tale ‘All Is True’ Connects The Myth To The Man

Read on: Deadline.

Kenneth Branagh’s All is True felt like a surprise. Released on December 21 with no festival play running up to it, preceded by a trailer launch not for this film but for Branagh’s upcoming big-budget adaptation of Artemis Fowl, it seemed to emerge fro…

‘All Is True’ Film Review: Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Biopic Aims High, Falls Flat

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How do we honor an icon when so little truth is known about his life? If Kenneth Branagh’s earnest Shakespearean biopic is any guide, we would do best to stick with the Bard’s own works. Indeed, it’s hard to watch “All Is True” without noticing what’s missing most: the nimble wit and profound insight we’ve already seen in Branagh’s own Shakespearean adaptations.

One can certainly empathize with the director’s desire to dig more deeply, after 35 years of committing the Bard of Avon’s work to stage and screen so successfully. But in the end, this fictionalized biography primarily reminds us how rare its subject’s talents really were.

As depicted by screenwriter Ben Elton, Shakespeare (Branagh) comes home to Stratford in 1613, hoping for a quiet retirement. He has been devastated by a recent fire, which burned his beloved Globe Theatre to the ground. He is mourning the long-ago death of his young son, Hamnet. And he still carries a torch for a lover who clearly isn’t his sharp-tongued wife Anne (Dame Judi Dench).

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Indeed, Anne is initially annoyed by her long-absent husband’s return, as are his daughters, quiet Susanna (Lydia Wilson, “Star Trek: Beyond”) and headstrong Judith (Kathryn Wilder, Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express”). Also put out is Susanna’s severe and Puritan husband (Hadley Fraser, “The Legend of Tarzan”), though Judith’s hard-partying fiancé (Jack Colgrave Hirst) seems pretty cool with the notion of a super-wealthy father-in-law.

Dench brings both gravitas and a light twinkle to the illiterate and elderly Anne, a woman who has not been treated kindly by history. Many have assumed that Shakespeare’s only bequest to her — his “second-best bed” — was an insult. But Elton and Dench deftly turn this notion around, drawing out the affection in what must have been, to say the least, a complex relationship.

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Judith is also brought to new life in both Elton’s script and Wilder’s spirited performance. Though we know little about the actual Judith, Wilder (primarily a stage actor, like most of the supporting cast) plays her as a complex and brilliant woman undermined by a patriarchy her father implacably upholds. Most curiously, Susanna is portrayed as a meek wife bound to her cruel husband, though in reality she was her father’s favorite, and her epitaph described her as being “witty above her sex.” You may find yourself wishing for another story, in which we could learn something — anything — more interesting about her.

And you’ll definitely want to know more about Shakespeare’s beloved Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen). His presence amounts to little more than a cameo, but McKellen brings so much playful life to his scene that the film deflates considerably once he’s gone.

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But why? Both Elton and Branagh have certainly found great depth and inspiration in Shakespeare before. Elton hasn’t just built his career on irreverence (“The Young Ones,” “Blackadder”), he’s written an entire British sitcom about Shakespeare, called “Upstart Crow.” Even a touch of that show’s lighthearted sauciness would have gone a long way in this effort. Indeed, given that Elton had so few definitive facts to work with, and therefore so much potential to imagine, it’s hard to understand why he chose such a dull and solemn route.

As for Branagh, it’s fair to say that there are few contemporary Shakespearean interpreters more experienced than he is; among his many adaptations are the buoyant and charming “Much Ado About Nothing” and the Oscar-nominated “Henry V” and “Hamlet.”

But now, as both director and star, the enormity of his subject seems more burden than inspiration. Although it’s appropriate to bring some weight to the final years of a great man’s life, there is simply too much of it here: the sets, the cinematography, the costumes all feel heavy, even when the characters release themselves from darkness. It’s hard to say whether Branagh is concerned about getting things wrong, or of being disrespectful. But he never finds the freedom he’s unlocked so often in Shakespeare’s own works. His ambition is honorable, but without substance, it becomes merely the shadow of a dream.

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Kenneth Branagh’s William Shakespeare Movie ‘All Is True’ Lands at Sony Classics

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired worldwide rights to “All Is True,” a drama directed by Kenneth Branagh about the final years in the life of William Shakespeare, the company announced Tuesday.

The original screenplay from writer Ben Elton reveals a dramatic and little known period in the final years of William Shakespeare. Branagh stars as Shakespeare alongside Judi Dench as his wife, Anne, and Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton.

“All Is True” will have a one-week year-end awards qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 21, followed by an official film release in 2019.

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Read the official description below:

The year is 1613. Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age. But disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground, and devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationships with his wife and daughters. In so doing, he is ruthlessly forced to examine his own failings as husband and father. His very personal search for the truth uncovers secrets and lies within a family at war.

“All Is True” is produced by Tamar Thomas and Ted Gagliano. Executive producers are Judy Hofflund, Matt Jenkins, Becca Kovacik and Laura Berwick.

“We have known and worked with Ken for 25 years. We  feel this is a movie he was destined to make. He conjures up for us the depth and dramatic richness of a character about whom we have always been fascinated,” Sony Pictures Classics said in a statement. What we have seen has confirmed our excitement to plan a qualifying run at the end of this year and to open the movie fully in the new year. We believe audiences will embrace the freshness of ‘All Is True.’”

Also Read: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Movie Review: Kenneth Branagh Only Has Eyes for Himself

“All Is True” marks screenwriter Elton’s first original drama.

The film also features the talents of production designer James Merifield, director of photography Zac Nicholson, costume designer Michael O’Connor, hair and makeup designer Vanessa Whitem, editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, casting directors Lucy Bevan and Emily Brockmann and composer Patrick Doyle.

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Judi Dench Is Latest Addition to ‘Cats’ Cast

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Judi Dench is the latest addition to the film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” which will be released by Universal Pictures.

Taylor Swift, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, and Idris Elba have also been cast for the film, which is set for release on December 20, 2019.

It’s a long time coming for Dench, as she was set to play Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production but had to bow out after suffering an Achilles injury shortly before previews.

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Tom Hooper is directing the film and co-writing with Lee Hall. Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are producing with Hooper, as well as fellow “Les Misérables” producer Debra Hayward–who brought the idea to Working Title. Lloyd Webber will be an executive producer with Steven Spielberg and Angela Morrison.

Dench will also be seen in Disney’s adaptation of “Artemis Fowl,” which will also be released in 2019. She is represented by Julian Belfrage Associates.

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Judi Dench Defends ‘Good Friend’ Kevin Spacey, ‘Can’t Approve’ of Him Being Cut From Roles

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Dame Judi Dench is defending her “good friend” Kevin Spacey and doesn’t agree with the fact that he was cut from “All the Money in the World” due to sexual misconduct allegations against him.

“I can’t approve, in any way, of the fact — whatever he has done — that you then start to cut him out of films,” Dench said at a film festival in Spain, according to the BBC. Christopher Plummer reshot the scenes in which Spacey formerly starred as John Paul Getty.

“Are we to go back throughout history now and anyone who has misbehaved in any way, or has broken the law, or has committed some kind of offense, are they always going to be cut out?” she asked. “Are we going to exclude them from our history? I don’t know about any of the conditions of it, but nevertheless I think he is, and was, a most wonderful actor … and a good friend.”

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Dench also recalled a time when Spacey was an “inestimable comfort” when she filmed 2001’s “The Shipping News” with the actor and her husband had died. “He cheered me up and kept and kept going.”

Most recently, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office decided that Spacey wouldn’t face charges stemming from accusations that he sexually assaulted an acquaintance in 1992 due to the statute of limitations. In August, the district attorney’s office announced that it was looking into a second sexual assault case against Spacey, following an initial case presented to the office in April.

In November 2017, Spacey was accused of assaulting “Star Trek: Discovery” actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was 14. Since then, Spacey’s charitable foundation has shut down operations, and London’s Old Vic Theatre, which Spacey served at as artistic director, opened a confidential hotline for anyone who says they were abused by Spacey to report their incidents.

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Multiple other men have since accused him of sexual assault and misconduct during the #MeToo movement. He was fired from his lead role on “House of Cards” and his most recent film, “Billionaire Boys Club,” bombed at the box office, with a $618 opening weekend — Spacey’s career low. Spacey responded to Rapp’s account but has since remained silent over the other accusations.

According to Variety, Dench also spoke about the Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement, calling it an “extraordinary moment of change.”

“And there are many more parts for women, which is very good indeed, and long may that go on,” she added.

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‘Tea with the Dames’ Film Review: Enjoy an Entertaining Eavesdrop on Four Living Legends

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

A consistently hilarious 90-minute chat that could have gone on for twice as long (or, ideally, a weekly television series) without ever feeling like too much of a good thing, “Tea With the Dames,” from director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), is as cozy and satisfying as its title suggests.

Simply, it consists of Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Plowright, and Dame Eileen Atkins gathering together at Plowright’s home and talking, and the verbal volleying, interruptions, sentence-finishing, and anecdotal confirmation of a 60-plus year friendship between the four only lags when the participants themselves look into the camera to tell the filmmakers that they’re tired. (Smith: “They did tell you how old we are, didn’t they?”)

Bracketed by theater-based vocal warm-up exercises, with all four women rapidly repeating chants such as “red lorry yellow lorry” (and a closing-credits attempt at a tongue twister that won’t be spoiled here), the conversation follows a loosely chronological trajectory — Atkins shares stories of her earliest years dancing with an institution known as The K.Y. School and her childhood confusion regarding why so many people found that name funny — and then digresses at random whenever one of the women remembers a particularly pointed anecdote.

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When Atkins moves on to the subject of playing Cleopatra and not feeling like she had the courage to tackle the role, Dench jumps in to relate her own experience with the character. “I just remember people laughing openly,” she deadpans, before remembering that she also asked if they really wanted “a menopausal dwarf” in the part. Cleopatra prompts acerbic commentary from Smith about the late Alan Bates’ envy for the role, as well a discussion of Shakespeare and naturalistic acting, with Plowright bemoaning the downsizing of the playwright’s language, chiding contemporary actors who insert “pauses anywhere they like, and uh, uh, uh…”

Memories of the 1960s ricochet between Dench and Atkins, the former announcing, “We swung early,” and the latter confirming, “You and I didn’t need the 60s,” which segues into memories of protesting Vietnam in Trafalgar Square and watching Vanessa Redgrave get arrested.

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Stage nerves (“Fear is petrol,” states Dench), difficult men (notably Lord Laurence Olivier, Plowright’s late husband, of whom Smith says, “I was more nervous of your husband than the critics. Everybody was. We were terrified.”), raising children, remembering only the bad reviews, the female beauty standards of the entertainment business, the unique situation of being offered the title of “Dame,” and the challenges of film acting versus stage work all come in for dissection.

Smith recounts her time with the late Alan Rickman on “Harry Potter” soundstages, delivering reaction shots opposite thin air as the teenage cast members were being tutored or set up for another shot in a different location. She also confesses to never having watched “Downton Abbey” and despising the large hats of period films as “…the heaviest things in the world. I wore one that was the Albert Hall.”

All four are rankled by the subject of aging and death (Dench: “F–k off, Roger!”), quick to joke about “having three good eyes between” them, but somewhat aghast upon learning that fellow veteran actress Miriam Margolyes has already planned her funeral.

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There are, admittedly, cinematic limitations of a frame in which four people sit and talk, so Michell’s team curates a generous helping of archival footage. Home movies, personal photographs, and 50-year-old television clips — 1968 Dench in bright green body makeup for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a sight to behold — make for thrilling punctuation to an already charming conversation.

That charm, the vitality of “Tea With the Dames,” is a product of lifelong friendships and a relaxed comfort the four women share. Michell captures the actors in what may be a somewhat artificial environment, but one in which they speak more openly than we’re used to hearing — casually, but also truthfully, in a manner that tends to be tamped down in more formal interview or press-junket settings. We feel lucky to be eavesdropping, learning which one is most likely to self-deprecate (a toss-up between Dench and Atkins) and who’s the saltiest (Smith, but you probably guessed that already).

Now, about that tea. It plays a far smaller role than expected, as the title of the film was changed from the original “Nothing Like a Dame” to ingratiate itself to the curiously twee version of anglophilia that exists in the United States, the one that centers around Merchant-Ivory films, teapots, and those Albert Hall-sized hats. These dames, perhaps unsurprisingly, are most happily served when the filmmakers break out a bottle of champagne, prompting Smith to demonstrate why she was cast as the Dowager Countess of Downton: “Why didn’t anyone think of that a few hours ago?”

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Judi Dench’s Period Spy Thriller ‘Red Joan’ Picked Up by IFC Films

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

IFC Films has acquired domestic rights to Judi Dench’s period spy thriller “Red Joan,” an individual with knowledge of the project told TheWrap. IFC Films is planning to release “Red Joan” theatrically in 2019.

Loosely inspired by the biography of British KGB agent Melita Norwood, the film had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Thursday and is directed by Trevor Nunn. The film also stars Sophie Cookson. “Red Joan” was written by Lindsay Shapero (“Royal Wives at War”) based on Jennie Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name.

“Red Joan” features Dench as Joan Stanley, a retired scientist living in a London suburb who is arrested for crimes committed many years ago. We flash back to 1938, and young Joan (Sophie Cookson) is a new student at Cambridge, where a chance encounter with Sonya (Tereza Srbova), an alluring fellow student, draws her into a circle of politicized youths supporting the Republicans in Spain and the Soviet dream of a classless society. Joan falls for Sonya’s brother Leo (Tom Hughes), a dashing idealist in search of adventure. When the Second World War begins, Joan goes to work for Max (Stephen Campbell Moore) at a top-secret British intelligence project of great interest to Leo. Joan is soon facing several difficult choices: between national loyalties, between belief systems, between men. Somewhere in all this, she will also discover her tremendous potential.

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Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt (“Shakespeare in Love”) produced for Trademark Films. Ivan Mactaggart (“My Week with Marilyn”) of Cambridge Picture Company and Alice Dawson (“The Party”) co-produced.

The acquisition for “Red Joan” was negotiated by Arianna Bocco, exec VP of acquisitions and production at IFC Films, and Embankment Films on behalf of Nunn.

Variety first reported the news.

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