Shakespeare Drops Into Oscar Race

Deadline, 30 November 2018
By Pete Hammond

Speaking of 'All Is True', Sony Classics has made that movie about William Shakespeare’s final years this season’s true stealth Oscar entry. SPC’s Michael Barker told me it was made secretly, for the most part, and no one was very aware that director and star Kenneth Branagh was even shooting it, despite the fact of its starry cast including Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench. Branagh, a Sir himself, plays Shakespeare in the film, which begins with a fire destroying the Globe Theatre in the middle of the opening night of his play 'Henry VIII', which then was titled 'All Is True'. He never wrote another, and the film is based on fact and conjecture about his final years as he returns to his family life that involved an illiterate wife (Dench is absolutely superb, as usual) and two scandal-ridden daughters.

Branagh came into L.A. earlier in the week for a quick three-day visit that included a screening at WME and a SAG screening that drew two massive standing ovations for the man who certainly knows his way around all things Shakespearean and has toyed with the idea of playing him for years. The SAG reaction is not surprising since this is an acting showcase if ever there was one.

During another SRO screening on Tuesday night for my Deadline-sponsored KCET Cinema Series, Branagh explained he has been obsessed with the Bard since taking his backpack and tent and sleeping out right near Stratford-upon-Avon. He also revealed that his first encounter with the great playwright actually had everything to do with the 1960s TV series Dr. Kildare. When he was growing up in the UK, Branagh and his family saw a TV play (Hallmark Hall of Fame in the U.S.) of 'Hamlet' starring Richard Chamberlain. “It was this special show we watched that starred Dr. Kildare, who actually was Richard Chamberlain, then known for playing a TV doctor. He was actually quite good, and that is what I recall as my first real encounter with Shakespeare,” he told me in explaining where the spark for this part of his distinguished career has come from.

Branagh also said the excellent cinematography for much of 'All Is True' was done with real candlelight. In the exquisite scene between McKellen as Earl of Southampton and Branagh’s Shakespeare, it is used to great effect. I told him I think the only other director who tried this technique might have been Stanley Kubrick, who insisted on natural candlelight for scenes in his 1975 epic, 'Barry Lyndon'. “We were worried we might be shooting the darkest movie ever made, but it worked out,” he laughed when I caught up with him at the WME screening. In the midst of all this, the actor-filmmaker has been directing Disney’s 'Artemis Fowl' for summer release and prepping his return to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot with 'Death on the Nile', which is set to start shooting early in the New Year for Fox. Branagh, by the way, has a unique distinction in Oscar lore having been nominated five times in five different categories: Actor, Director, Supporting Actor, Screenplay and Live Action Short. He is just one away from tying George Clooney and Walt Disney as the only other to have been nominated in six different categories. Alfonso Cuarón could do it this year for just one film — you guessed it — 'Roma' in which he could land noms as Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing. A sixth nom for 'Roma' could come for Foreign Language Film, and although he would pick up the prize should it win, the actual nomination is in the name of the originating country, in this case Mexico.

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