Tag Archive: Zac Nicholson


Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing taken away from the work of actor Joseph Fiennes in the romance-comedy Shakespeare in Love, but in the 2019 biopic All is True, it’s hard to imagine any actor as perfectly cast as William Shakespeare himself than Sir Kenneth Branagh.  In one conversation between Branagh’s Shakespeare and Sir Ian McKellen′s Earl of Southampton, the quiet beauty of language and craft they convey will make you think no two people were better suited to their art.  Taking a cue from the subtitle of Shakespeare’s final play, Henry VIII–the play being performed when Shakespeare’s Globe Theater caught fire (pro tip: don’t put stage cannons in your scripts)–All is True takes Shakespeare from there to his death, as he quits writing and returns to his home, his wife, and their two daughters to retire.

Ghosts of his past catch up with Shakespeare, as the rural village of his birth does not forget the scandals of his family’s past and present, silly things today that meant everything to English society in 1613.  One of those ghosts is that of his son, Hamnet, the twin of his younger daughter, who died in real life of unknown causes at eleven, and which is expanded upon for dramatic sake in this story by writer/comedian Ben Elton (Much Ado About Nothing).  Elton’s script smartly stitches together what history knows about Shakespeare and his family after his plays and what is probable or at least possible, providing a faithful, glorious look at what someone who knew his own legacy in his own time might have done next.  Branagh reflects the kind of ego that must have been behind the man.  Shakespeare neglected his family for years, and his youngest daughter, played by Kathryn Wilder (Ready Player One), lets him know it.

Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, 18 years his senior in real life, is played as impeccably as audiences would expect from Dame Judi Dench, and although 26 years his senior in real life it all works seamlessly.  Branagh is hardly recognizable at first, until his undeniable voice takes over, thanks to a prosthetic nose that never leaves any doubt that Branagh conjured the ghost of Shakespeare for this performance.  Equal to the performance is the year’s best cinematography by Zac Nicholson (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society), who frames every scene as if it were an adaptation of an original oil painting by Johannes Vermeer or Rembrandt van Rijn.  His use of light–especially his scenes shot by candlelight to mimic chiaroscuro–is magical.

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A new political satire film is coming to U.S. theaters next week–The Death of Stalin.  Ahead of its U.S. release, it has already caused controversy in Russia and other former Soviet Union states, and it’s been banned in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.  Russian leadership has stated, “The Death of Stalin is aimed at inciting hatred and enmity, violating the dignity of the Russian people, promoting ethnic and social inferiority, which points to the movie’s extremist nature.  We are confident that the movie was made to distort our country’s past so that the thought of the 1950s Soviet Union makes people feel only terror and disgust.”  The Death of Stalin is based on a French graphic novel by writer Fabien Nury with artwork by Thierry Robin and Lorien Aureyre.

Sounds like something worth reading, right?

Nury’s The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy take on befuddled Russian leadership in the 1950s.  Strangled by Joseph Stalin’s paranoia and violent extremism, his lieutenants can barely function enough to call for a doctor when he suffers a heart attack that strikes him following his reading of a letter insulting him.  Who will lead after his death and how many Russians will die as power is re-aligned?  The story plays like a Quentin Tarantino film–think of the bulk of the political machinations in Inglourious Basterds mixed with Seth Rogen’s The Interview, plus the absurdity of Doctor Strangelove set against the historical visuals and serious edge of Valkyrie.  And it’s all a very British comedy.

Sourced with a handful of well-known British comedic actors, the film stars Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter series, Star Trek Discovery), Steve Buscemi (Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski), Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion, Quantum of Solace), Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion, Never Let Me Go), Michael Palin (Monty Python & The Holy Grail, A Fish Called Wanda), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), and Jeffrey Tambor.  Armando Iannucci (Veep) directs with cinematography by Zac Nicholson (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel) and costumes by Suzie Harman (The Bourne Ultimatum).

Check out this preview of the graphic novel The Death of Stalin and a trailer for the film:

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