Shakespeare 450: Much Ado About Nothing (2013) - Blu-ray Review

2014 marks what would have been William Shakespeare's 450th birthday. In celebration of this (and being something of a Shakespeare nut) Ben intends to spend the year taking in as many Shakespeare films as he can - from old favourites to new interpretations and everything in between.

'Deserving of recognition as one of the most successful modern twists on Shakespeare'.

My overall judgement of Joss Whedon’s charmingly casual Much Ado About Nothing falls pretty close to Sam’s opinion after he saw the film last year in Bradford. So, rather than simply reiterating the views of my fellow reviewer, my aim here is to take a primarily literary stance on why I see Whedon’s film as a near-comprehensive success.

Like the majority of Shakespeare’s dramatic works, Much Ado About Nothing falls predominantly within a specific genre - in this case comedy - whilst also dipping its feet into one or two other areas, thereby throwing in some extra complications into the mix. It’s something of which Whedon is abundantly aware, which is never more apparent than in his choice to film the whole thing in crisp monochrome. Yes, this is a story primarily told to make you laugh, but there are serious themes to be found, not least in the subplot concerned with the rocky courtship of Hero (Jillian Morgese) by Claudio (Fran Kranz). Shakespeare masterfully interweaves messages of honour, shame and deception amongst laugh-out-loud wordplay, and Whedon balances these potentially conflicting elements superbly.

Whedon also recognises that, in order to work, Much Ado About Nothing must take place in a mildly exaggerated version of reality. Potentially easier to create on stage than on screen, Whedon nonetheless crafts the tone and setting to perfection. Benedick (Alexis Denisof) overhearing his companions speak of Beatrice’s (Amy Acker) love for him whilst cartoonishly diving in and out of window frames, all the while believing himself to be completely undetectable, is a delight - clearly not aiming for realism and yet entirely believable within the world of the film. Nathan Fillion also deserves mention when discussing comedic success; his Dogberry may be much subtler than Michael Keaton’s caricatured turn in the part seen two decades earlier in Branagh’s film, but his performance is just as hilarious.

Whilst much of the charm of Whedon’s film comes from its simplicity, it does have the minor side-effect that his version of the play never has a chance to truly wow. You may occasionally yearn for a few extra flourishes in Whedon’s adaptation, with the masked ball at the beginning of Act 2 feeling like a prime opportunity for him to do so. Another problem stems from Shakespeare’s script in the form of antagonistic character Don John (Sean Maher) who, when compared to some of the truly despicable and genuinely unforgettable villains the Bard crafts throughout his canon, feels somewhat limp. Whedon admittedly tries something different with the character by transforming Conrade, one of Don John’s two originally male followers, into his female lover played by Riki Lindholme. But it’s not quite enough to resolve arguably the only relative weakness in one of Shakespeare’s most accomplished comedies.

The criticisms however are both minor and forgivable. Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is expertly crafted and shot through with both imagination and respect - an adaptation deserving of recognition as one of the most successful modern twists on Shakespeare since Baz Luhrmann ventured to Verona.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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