Much Ado About Nothing 1993 Film Review
It’s hard to believe that it’s over 20 years since Kenneth Branagh’s version of Much Ado About Nothing first screened. Watching it now is like looking at your holiday snaps of the best summer ever. Eternal summer reigns over the timeless Tuscan villa, and you’re lost in a world of vineyards, fountains, torchlight, masquerades, white dresses and couples in love.
For those of you who have never seen it – and don’t know the Shakespeare play it’s based upon – the story centres around two main couples. Claudio and Hero (Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckinsale) are young, shy, and very much in love. But Claudio is easily led, and the jealous villain Don John (Keanu Reeves) seizes every chance to spoil Claudio’s happiness and stop him marrying the beautiful young heiress.
Beatrice and Benedick (Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, who were married in real life at the time) pretend to hate each other and marriage in general. As Beatrice’s uncle Leonato says: “There is a kind of merry war betwixt (them)…they never meet, but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.” But under the surface, things are different, and their friends are sure they can trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling “horribly in love” with each other.
One of the reasons Much Ado has stood the test of time is that it’s just so funny. The jokes sound so fresh that you find yourself thinking: “Did Shakespeare really write that?” But while some scenes and speeches have been cut or rearranged, nothing has been added or altered. Hilarious lines, such as: “Ha! The prince and Monsieur Love,” and, “Scratching could not make it worse an ’twere such a face as yours,” are pure Shakespeare. It’s the way the actors deliver them that makes them so vivid.
But there is also a serious thread, which explodes with the violence of a Tuscan thunderstorm on Hero’s wedding day. The pain, anguish, remorse and tears of the characters are real; we grieve with them and for them. However, all turns out well in the end, and the final scene of fantastically choreographed dancing in the courtyard and gardens is truly uplifting.
Looking back, it’s sad to think that Richard Briers is no longer with us, that Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson broke up in between this and Sense and Sensibility/Frankenstein, and that the fresh-faced Kate Beckinsale came to be stereotyped as a vampire. But as soon as “Sigh no more,” appears on the screen, all is forgotten. It’s Tuscany, it’s summer, and all our woes are about to turn into, “Hey nonny nonny.”
Things you might not know about the film:
- Kenneth Branagh first thought of making a film of Much Ado in 1988 (before he’d made his first Shakespearean film, Henry V).
- Getting the opening shot (from the painting to Beatrice in the tree) took a record-breaking 29 takes, the most in the production.
- All the musical sequences were performed live. (The singer, Balthasar, is played by Patrick Doyle, who composed the score).
- The “gulling of Benedick” scene around the fountain was rained off by a thunderstorm at one point.
- The actors killed time between shots by competitively throwing stones into a goblet.
- There were 120 extras (and apparently only 100 costumes!!)
- The screenplay for Benedick, after Beatrice has “bid him come in to dinner,” reads: “He looks like the cat that got the cream, the milk, the fish, and the keys to the house.”
(Information and quotations taken from Much Ado About Nothing by Kenneth Branagh (London: Random House, 1993))
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