All Is True x Everyman Exclusive Interview
We caught up with actor and director Kenneth Branagh about his most recent Shakespearean release All Is True.
All Is True explores and uncovers the truths and fills in gaps of what we do and don’t know about the latter years of Shakespeare’s life. When conceiving the film how were the decisions made to fill in the gaps of what we do and don’t know?
It was based on specific facts for instance the death of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who died in 1596 at 11 years old. We know he passed away during a summer in Stratford-Upon-Avon where very few other children passed away as opposed to that period where the plague and fire took hold of the area and deaths were clearly caused by those means. So this film speculates a little on what that might have been and looks back on the emotional trajectory of Shakespeare’s family. We also look at the two sexual scandals which are on public record where his oldest daughter Susanna was accused of adultery at Church as seen in the film where John Lane stands up and publicly accuses her – that really happened! His other daughter Judith (Hamnet’s twin) was married to a man and six weeks later it was discovered he had a daughter who was born out of wedlock to a Margaret Wheeler, who had died in childbirth alongside the baby – and of course that resulted in punishment for him. We can imagine both things had a big impact on psychological dynamics inside that family. It’s the kind of thing that Shakespeare would extrapolate from the facts that he would know about Henry VIII, Julius Caesar or Richard III.
The goal was to try to bridge those gaps by looking at the material of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the last plays (The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale). Plays that dealt with disrupted families, separated twins and fathers in difficult relationships with daughters. The meat of the play is turned out to be the meat of the filling of this certain sandwich.
In the film Shakespeare says that he doesn’t have a favourite play. Do you have a favourite play?
I don’t because it changes. I did feel the process of doing The Winter’s Tale in the theatre just a couple of years before this movie had a big, big influence on it. It also deals with a lost child and a very powerful woman, Paulina, who very much embodies the spirit of our Anne Hathaway. Judi Dench who played both is passionate and intelligent. She lets each woman’s voice be heard with such honesty and without compromise. So Winter’s Tale had a big impact but I also love Twelfth Night and Hamlet – I enjoy all of them.
You’ve worked with writer Ben Elton on Much Ado About Nothing and most recently Upstart Crow. As far as working with him (and Judi Dench) did it feel like a well-oiled machine when developing this film?
There’s a level of trust and history which means that there’s respect that’s been earned and has longevity. Though there’s the ability to be honest and direct when you disagree. It means that you can be much more direct, but if you’re honest and your ego stays out of it then the progress can be made very swiftly. Ben and I had been almost producing films and plays together for the last 30 years with various circumstantial things getting in the way, it meant that we had practice at our process which was a long back and forth. With Judi it’s the same thing so much so that we need to say very little. I just need to get ready for how good she’s going to be every time!