Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Among the most forward-looking of Shakespeare's plays, Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps one of the easiest to adapt for the cinema, but doing it well is quite another thing, especially when transferring it to a modern setting. Boldly mixing modern costume, settings and gadgetry with the social codes of 16th century Messina, Joss Whedon's version is awkward at first but soon finds its rhythm, developing into an emotionally complex and moving tale that more than justifies itself.

Whedon's real gift lies in the direction of actors, especially ensemble casts, and here he balances the performances masterfully. Unlike the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version, there's no sense here of competing egos (other than where the script demands it). In place of that film's showiness, here we see the cast for what it is, a group of friends playing out familiar interactions, which fits perfectly with the spirit of the play. Background characters remain in the background but are no less interesting for it.


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As always, Whedon plays particular attention to his female characters. Beatrice (a splendid Amy Acker) has always been one of Shakespeare's strongest heroines but here she has a down to Earth quality that emphasises how much she takes her own spiritedness for granted, so there's none of the sense, present in some adaptations, that she's being displayed as a freak. Meanwhile, clever camerawork gives Hero (Jillian Morgese) a lot more to do, without her getting any extra lines, so that she's rounded out as a character and we feel for her more strongly when fortune turns against her. This reshaping of the women makes the plot against Hero feel all the more shocking because it's not just an affront to virtue, it's a cruel dismissal of her personhood.

For those unfamiliar with the story - as many Whedon fans may be - it's essentially about two couples with very different approaches to love, though it has brutal elements as well as romantic and comic ones. Hero and Claudio (Fran Krantz) are old fashioned romantics, which has a sweetness to it but also a dangerous side. Beatrice and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), on the other hand, don't recognise any feelings for each other until they're sneakily set up by their friends, but their fierce verbal sparring stems from an intense passion. This is complicated for each of them by the importance of independence; it's a very modern relationship which, in its time, both shocked and thrilled audiences. Framed in Whedon's lucid black and white it recalls the feisty romcoms of the Fifties, whilst scenes of subterfuge out on the streets at night employ the visual language of film noir.

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Mostly prose, the dialogue in Much Ado sounds more natural here than much of Shakespeare's work, and Whedon has fun with proclamations written in verse, presenting them as deliberately verbose and jocular. Musical interludes balance out the heavy discussions and help to set the mood, especially in later scenes.

All in all, it's an impressive piece of work for a film made in somebody's back garden on a miniscule budget. It succeeds in breathing fresh life into a much-loved tale, infusing it with a modern ethos and energy that situate it among the very best adaptations of Shakespeare's work.

Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2013
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A fresh take on Shakespeare's romantic comedy about sparring couples.
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Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon, based on the play by William Shakespeare.

Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, Ashley Johnson, Spencer Treat Clark

Year: 2012

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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