BIFF 2013 - Much Ado About Nothing - Cinema Review

'Whedon is on form here, clearly in touch with the material, playing up its camp side whilst grounding much of its slapstick-friendly comedy with contemporary references to stars you like.'

Much Ado About Nothing is a very hard Shakespeare play to ruin. Take a look at Kenneth Branagh's 1993 version. It does nothing spectacular, keeps the dialogue, the setting and the balance and ends up a remarkably light, eminently funny production. More than that, it is actually excellent, one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever completed and much of that is down to the original play, which is an absolutely wonderful, non-dry delight of a comedy.

By contrast, film history is littered by unsuccessful bard adaptations that tinker too much with setting, script or character, with Julie Taymor's The Tempest being a notable recent example.

Into that mixture of an un-ruinable play, enter Joss Whedon, who promptly moves the setting to contemporary L.A. and therefore makes it ruinable again. If ever a film could go to one extreme either way, this is it.

Happily, Whedon is on form here, clearly in touch with the material, playing up its camp side whilst grounding much of its slapstick-friendly comedy with contemporary references to stars you like. Nathan Fillion declares himself an ass more times than you can count and each time is hilarious. Clark Gregg is moodily patriarchal, with an attractive streak of alcoholism and he plays nicely against the less recognisable but equally fun Reed Diamond, who is perfectly cast and has to go through every Shakespearean emotion going.

Whedon's decision to shoot this in his house over the course of less than two weeks also plays into the hands of the material. Just like Branagh, Whedon knows he need not do much here. Insert some visual gags, keep things simple: deliver a hit. He does and it is.

Even in a production this modern though, there is no getting around what occasionally can be construed as for-stage tweeness. Like an episode of Eastenders, someone who shouldn't be is always listening in to someone, somewhere. On stage you can believe it, in Branagh you can believe it; here, with Amy Acker hiding beneath a breakfast bar listening to two other characters talk, it's stretching it.

Acker though - faultlessly charming - and fellow reluctant lover Alexis Denisof ensure this is a successful take, with warmth and the kind of generosity to each other that the source encourages. This is still, currently, un-ruinable, at least until the next time someone attempts to move it hundreds of years into the future and across a continent or two.




Much Ado About Nothing is on general UK release from 14th June 2013.

The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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