Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Kenneth Branagh’s second Shakespearean adaptation for the screen, Much Ado About Nothing is Branagh in top form, dynamically presenting a faithful interpretation of Shakespeare’s original.

El director also quite notably dons his acting hat in this production, playing Signior Benedick in a battle of wits, wills, and wooing opposite the Lady Beatrice, played by Branagh’s real-life wife at the time of production, Emma Thompson.  Branagh and Thompson are a fantastic pairing here, bringing crucial chemistry as their love/hate relationship is so central to Much Ado.

Thompson and Branagh as Beatrice and Benedick
Branagh and Thompson aren’t the only two bringing their A-game to this adaptation; several other big-time actors deliver big-time performances here.  Denzel Washington, playing Prince of Aragon Don Pedro, is outstanding.  Washington simply commands the screen, and brings Shakespeare’s prince to life with the same exceptional conviction as he has so many modern characters throughout his career.  Washington does Shakespeare so well that I was surprised to not find more of it in his resume leading up to this film (apparently he played five characters, presumably more or less as an extra, in a 1979 production of Corialanus, starring Morgan Freeman in the lead role – I’ve got to see it!).

He knows he's good: Denzel as Don Pedro
Despite such steep competition, taking home the Shawn and Shakespeare Show Stealer Award for Much Ado with relative ease is Michael Keaton.  As Master Constable Dogberry, Keaton is just tremendously fun to watch.  He’s got great source material here of course; Dogberry is a particularly memorable character in the Shakespearean comic canon, but Keaton’s fantastic charisma and comic timing, that so light up the screen here in Much Ado, help to make Keaton’s performance remarkable in its own right.  He’s right on par here, for my money, with his brilliant performance as Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.

Keaton as Dogberry, ignoring his partner Verges (Ben Elton)
While there is so much going for this production of Much Ado, it is worth noting there are some plot points in Shakespeare’s original that are not the most modern – I’m thinking particularly of some less than empowering moments for the ladies, which I look forward to discussing in an upcoming blog on the play – and Branagh is, as I mentioned, admirably faithful to Shakespeare’s play.  Far from being a fault in the film, I personally appreciate Branagh’s respect for the play as it was written – there’d be too much to change to bring it up to date in that sense.  The feminist critique got my wheels turning in terms of analyzing the play, but it did nothing to deter my enjoyment of the film, which is outstanding.

See it for yourself: Much Ado About Nothing

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