I’ve long had an appreciation for this play and for this particular interpretation of the text. This is mostly because I studied the play and this version of the film at school. With that sort of nostalgia factor at play, it goes without saying that this will rank highly due to my sepia tinted glasses, if nothing else. Not that I wear glasses. Not yet anyway.
So, for anybody who either hasn’t read/seen this play or has absolutely no clue about Shakespeare’s works, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the Bard’s comedies, albeit one with a dark undertone that could have easily turned it into one of his tragedies.
Not that it really needed pointing out, but you know instantly who the bad guys are in this venture. Rather cannily, they wear black breeches instead of the blue worn by Don Pedro and his entourage. Don John, the illegitimate brother of Pedro (as if their different ethnicities weren’t any clearer on this), wishes to see his brother fail and thus sets a cunning plan into action.
This production, filmed on location in Italy, is almost as light and as fluffy as the outfits worn by the cast. It is a tale of two romances. The first is the main focal point of the narrative, with the returning soldier Claudio (Leonard) wooing Hero (Beckinsale). Sort of. Claudio wants to get together with Hero, but lacks the gumption to ask her out himself. Pedro does so on his behalf at a masquerade, but not before John has seeded in Claudio’s mind that Pedro is wooing her for his own good.
The other is between Benedick and Beatrice, here the real life couple of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Well, until they divorced a year later anyway. Their constant sniping at one another hides the fact they would make a good couple, and it’s this that leads to Don Pedro plotting with the others to have them bond, one way or another.
A welcome dose of humour is introduced leading into the final act, in the form of Dogberry (Keaton) and Verges (Elton). After all the dramatic to-ing and fro-ing to this point, their bumbling incompetence confirms to the audience that this is indeed a comedy. Still, their near inability to do their jobs almost lets John get away with his evil plan.
And let’s be honest. With a cast that features the trio of Briers, Brannagh, and Blessed, with Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Ben Elton, Michael Keaton and yes, even Keanu Reeves, where can you go wrong?
Well, you can cut out the clear continuity error around halfway through. Benedick is stood in full view of those he is hiding from during the fountain song. Otherwise, where else can you go wrong?
Finally, for those unaccustomed to the sight, if you are not a fan of seeing Imelda Staunton being groped (onscreen) and ravaged (slightly offscreen) by a randy man with a beard, this might not be the film for you.