Much Ado About Nothing. Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Danishof, Clark Gregg.
Directed by Joss Whedon. Rated M (sex scenes). 109 minutes.
All the Shakespeare enthusiasts will have their own strong opinion on the quality of Much Ado about Nothing. By and large, the comic play is well received period. Fans of Shakespearean films will recall that one of Kenneth Branagh’s earliest film versions of Shakespeare was the 1993 Much Ado with Emma Thompson had a very unusual cast including Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. It was colorful, bright and breezy, with its underlying battle of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick.
This year there has been mixed anticipation of a new version of Much Ado. First of all, it was to be adapted for the screen and directed by Joss Whedon. He is the hero of the fanboys and fangirls who appreciate his imaginative television programs, the film Serenity and, the biggest Blockbuster of 2012, The Avengers the one with Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk…). They were hoping that he was working on The Avengers 2. On the other hand, the news was that this version was in black and white, with an unknown cast, running under two hours.
Those who relish Much Ado will find quite some satisfaction in this version. It is light years away from a huge-budget extravaganza. Yes, it has been filmed in black and white. The cast is generally not known, at least by name. They are friends of Whedon, a group who meet in his California home to read Shakespeare. They decided that they would do a simple version of Much Ado, in contemporary dress, with their own accents, and they filmed over a three week period. Whedon himself also composed the score.
One of the difficulties for Americans performing Shakespeare’s plays is their accent and their recitation of the verse. Not all can speak iambic pentameter in a way that blends the speech rhythms with the blank verse. Sometimes they seem quite contrived in their efforts to be poetic. No need to be apprehensive here. The cast has a skilled for natural rhythms and ease with speaking the verse, not forcing it, but yet retaining the impact of Shakespeare’s language and rhythms.
While the film is comic, it has many serious undertones and implications. While the film is also serious, it is played with some comic lightness.
We accept that we are in Messina, in Italy, even though the data and the sound is of California. And it is a contemporary California, to costumes, music and dance, and modern touches like I-pods and cell phones, sometimes providing music and, interestingly at the end, a plot development via images on a mobile phone.
The plots intrigue is not particularly modern but is at home in the Shakespearian era. However, we accept it because of the performances. There is excellent sparring between Beatrice and Benedick in performances by Ami Acker and Alexis Danishof. They project strong personalities so that even when the focus is not on them, we are conscious of their presence. But the basic plot concerns a father and his daughter, her being courted by an earnest young man, backed by the noble visitor, Don Pedro. However, Pedro’s bastard-halfbrother plots against him, fabricates a sequence whereby the young man accepts false evidence that his fiancée is unfaithful to him.
And in another Shakespearian tradition, the heroine, whose name is Hero, is made out to be dead - and comes to the life when the young man admits his errors.
The couple may not agree that in regard to their love and marriage, there has been much ado about nothing. But all agree that all’s well that ends well.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 11 2013.