Much Ado About Nothing

Rating:

Making Much Ado About This Movie

Main Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Both my husband and I loved Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing when it came out in the theater. Then I read a review and knew I needed to rent it and watch it again (and again and again).

The Scenery

This film is beautiful. The movie opens with a dark screen and the words “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more” fading on to the screen. As the famous poem continues, we hear Beatrice (beautifully played by Emma Thompson) reciting the poem. The black screen drops away so that we can see a beautiful countryside and the residents of the villa lounging in the grass, eating bread and grapes, drinking wine, and listening to poetry in a landscape that begs to be described as sun-splashed.

Then Don Pedro (whom Denzel Washington creates as the caring, fun-loving, and dignified prince) and his men come galloping in on impressive horses with their uniform flaps and hair blowing back in the winds. Excitement ensures and there is a bath scene that is joyous in everyone’s excitement to greet each other and celebrate.

This review would run several pages if I attempted to describe all of the fantastic scenery, for there is a garden maze, a rustic fountain, and a perfectly manicured courtyard. Let me just say that the entire set is a visual treat that constantly reminds us that this is one of the Bard’s lighter plays.

The Costumes

The costumes contribute to the visual treat of this movie. The women are invariably dressed in white peasant dresses and the many of the men are in smart white and blue uniforms. The masquerade includes many whimsical masks and beautiful outfits.

Halfway through our third viewing of the video, my husband said, “Those dresses make women look so attractive I don’t know why they wear anything else.” Perhaps we should send the movie to the people in charge of purchasing and designing for clothing stores!

The Acting

Branagh was able to attract quite the star-studded cast and each of them live up to their roles. Emma Thompson is one of my favorite actors and she brings a vitality and energy to this role that is joyful to watch. It helps that Beatrice is one of my favorite Shakespearean heroines. She is independent without being shrewish and strong without being evil.

Branagh himself does an outstanding job as the roguish Benedict. There is delightful chemistry between Thompson and Branagh, not terribly surprising since they were married at the time.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the clownish acting of Michael Keaton as the sheriff. He seems to revel in his comic role and adds an interesting interpretation to the character.

Keanau Reeves plays the villain. At least, he’s cast in that role, to say he “played” it almost gives him too much credit. Whenever my husband and I want to give an example of bad acting, we quote his stilted, painful first line, “I’m a man of few words, but I thank you.” Unfortunately, the only thing about his part that gets any better is that you get to see him bare-chested and he is, at least for the female viewers, rather nice to look at.

The Dialog

Many people avoid Shakespeare because the language is archaic and can be difficult to follow. This is true if the play is simply read or poorly acted. It helps to remember that Shakespeare was meant to be seen and not read. A skillful actor (like the ones in this production) are able to communicate the Bard’s meaning by the way they deliver the lines. To take a slight segue, one of the things that constantly impresses me with my husband’s acting skill is that he is able to read an old or middle English script and then bring it to life in a single read. I become awestruck listening to him read something that I found mediocre on paper. This cast truly makes the language come alive and you’ll soon forget that the usage is dated.

The strength of Much Ado About Nothing lies in its banter and its constant teasing.

Benedict: When I said that I would die a bachelor, it is because I did not think I would live until I married.

The best lines are those between Benedict and Beatrice as Hero and Claudio’s roles are on the insipid side. Then again, it is impossible to forget the sheriff’s line, Do not forget that I am an ass. Nor will we. 4 stars.

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