Friday, 30 August 2013
Review: Much Ado About Nothing (UK Cert 12A)
Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare. A potent combination that I was powerless to resist. I'm a huge fan of both and it's clear that Whedon is certainly a fan of the Bard (fun fact- 'Once More With Feeling', the musical episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, came about during a private reading of Shakespeare). Shot in black and white at Whedon's own home in just twelve days, and featuring a cast that includes many actors from his previous TV shows and movies, this is a slick and stylish adaptation of one of Shakespeare's best-thought-of plays.
Whilst the setting is modern day, the language is Shakespeare's as is the plot. Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his associates Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) return from a victorious campaign against Pedro's villainous brother Don John (Sean Maher) and his associates, whom they have captured. Visiting Leonato, the governor of Messina (Clark Gregg), Claudio falls in love with Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) whilst Benedick verbally spars with Leonato's headstrong niece Beatrice (Amy Acker). The scene is set for romance, however there is a snake in this paradise: Don John, who seeks to destroy Claudio and Hero's burgeoning relationship for his own amusement.
I'll say, right off the bat, that I've never really been taken by Much Ado About Nothing as a play- I have several issues with the Claudio/Hero B-story which takes the shine off it for me, although the pairing of Beatrice and Benedick is amongst Shakespeare's finest double acts. But Whedon does something extraordinary here - he manages to make the more implausible parts of that storyline into something very affecting and even moving.
That's down in no small part to the cast of the movie. Sometimes, when it comes to Shakespeare, you can tell the actors are just saying the lines and not really paying attention or understanding the meaning behind it. Not so here. Everyone speaks the language fluently and the meaning comes through. Performances are uniformally excellent so it seems unfair to single people about, but Acker is just fantastic as Beatrice, running the gamut from disdainful, playful and flighty to fierce, upset and forthright. Denisof is a perfect foil for her as the smooth Benedick and their easy camaraderie together will be a joy to fans of the TV show Angel. Whedon makes a shrewd move by showing the previous intimate relationship shared by Beatrice and Benedick which gives their 'war of words' a greater depth. Clark Gregg- a late replacement for Anthony Head who was unable to take part due to scheduling difficulties- is excellent as Leonato, coming across as authoritative but also warm, whilst Maher makes for a very silky and seductive villain. Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Serenity) is on fine scene-stealing form as the hapless policeman Dogberry.
You can tell this has been a real labour of love for Whedon and he's a director skilled enough to stop this passion project from becoming utterly self-indulgent. There are some excellent moments of physical comedy, a very lovely soundtrack and some beautiful cinematography. It's light and actually funny, a perfect romantic comedy. I left the cinema beaming and feeling uplifted and joyous.
Rating: 5 out of 5