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Critical Review of Much Ado About Nothing

In: English and Literature

Submitted By thodges
Words 1021
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The adaptation of Much Ado was Branagh’s second attempt at turning a Shakespearian classic into a box office phenomenon. Brannagh first adapted a Shakespearian play in 1989 with Henry V. “Branagh's "Henry V" emerges from the darkness with the rip and sputter of a struck match. It's a magnificent beginning and a startling metaphor -- an inspired equivalent for Shakespeare's "muse of fire" -- and the first stroke of brilliance in this audacious, resonant, passionate film”
… Well that’s what Hal Hinson of the Washington Post thought anyway. Some might say that Brannagh therefore had a lot to live up to with Much Ado, his second Shakespeare adaptation. Do I think the film lived up to the expectations? Well I guess that depends upon your motives for watching, for fun? Or like me in an attempt to understand the complicating language and humour found within Much Ado, if the latter sigh no more students, Branagh’s film makes the understanding of Much Ado far easier. If you wanted a nice night in with a film, however, under no circumstance would I recommend this film, plagued with wooden acting, confusing, casting and more over a boring, predictable and somewhat unbelievable plot.
Brannaghh’s decision to cast Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, the heroic, noble fighter is somewhat bewildering, considering traditional audiences’ connotations of a black man; however as a contemporary audience we are able to look beyond the colour of Don Pedro’s skin. I however was unable to look beyond Washington’s poor, unconvincing acting – making him stick out like a sore thumb against the brilliance of Benedick (played by Brannagh himself). Rather contradicting to the refusal to conform to the connotations of the colour black, Brannagh decides to put Don John (Keanu Reeves) and his men in a black uniform, rather than the blue of the others. This use of colour connotation would suggest that Brannagh knew full well the association between black and evil. Another rather dubious casting choice of Brannagh’s was that of Keanu Reeves as Don John. There is no doubt about Reeves as an actor, he performed fantastically in the phenomenal Matrix trilogy but unfortunately, his performance in this Shakespearian classic leaves very little impression, instead his wooden unconvincing acting draws attention away from the other, capable Shakespeare, actors. Personally, Reeves should probably stick to hanging with Bill and Morpheus if I’m honest! I perhaps it is harder for American Hollywood actors to grasp Shakespeare than it is for say a Brit who has, no doubt, been punished by going through the British education system where at some time has been forced to study one of Shakespeare’s works. So, Brannagh’s, why cast them?
I have previously mentioned the brilliance of the role Benedick, played by Brannagh, however, without Emma Thompson –playing Beatrice- he would have been incapable to put in such a performance. Brannagh and Thompson (Benedick and Beatrice) feed off one another’s insults to create a truly electrifying outcome. The energy that the couple put into their performances allowed me and, I know, others to really connect and understand the plot, rather than sitting reading from the grotty old book your parents handed down to you from when they were studying this ancient text! This ‘jolly war’ can be seen from the outset whereby Beatrice state she would not marry Benedick even “if [he] was the last man on earth” this swordplay becomes the jewel at the centre of the entire plot. The only fault I could possibly find with these two characters is that the turn in their emotions is far too drastic and sharp, calling into question the true depth of their feelings for one another.
From the outset of this resoundingly average film, we are shown the tone of which Brannagh wishes to set, this being one of overall happiness in the sun. Perhaps creating a mini-vacation for the audience – a vacation which cannot compete with that of the cast and crew. The opening to this adaptation shows people bathing and getting ready for the return of the valiant fighters, during this scene we are exposed to complete nudity of both the sexes. This is most probably the largest discrepancy between traditional Shakespearian directing and the contemporary works of Hollywood. Nudity of any form would have been prohibited and further, failed to obtain the approval of the crown. This nudity suggests that Brannagh’s film is likely to be far raunchier than any other adaptation of the work so far. This distinct divergence between traditional and contemporary styles has both pleased and angered Shakespeare fans. Many of the ‘purist’ Shakespeare enthusiasts claim that Branagh’s attempts to make Much Ado more accessible merely dilutes the meaning and fails to pay the respect the play deserves, whereas other are pleased for the greater coverage and knowledge of the play.
Amongst the failings of actors whom I shall not name –Washington, Reeves – Michael Keaton manages to bring the film some humour. Keaton embraces the common belief of the time that all policemen were buffoons and adapts his part to show this very well! (Helpful if you are studying the play, somewhat confusing if you aren’t and didn’t know the conviction of their idiocy) The part of the village idiot and police constable integrated into one role was added by Shakespeare for one main role, Dogberry (despite his idiocy) is actually the saviour of this play, without him and his men Much Ado would be a tragedy but with his malapropism and saviour of Hero he turns this tragedy in a heart-warming rom com. Keaton plays and moreover speaks his part fantastically allowing the confusing malapropisms to simply roll of his tongue as if he, himself believed them to be correct, this makes his idiocy all the more convincing to the audience.
In conclusion, do I believe Much Ado is good enough to justify its $8,000,000 budget? In short, NO. I do however believe that the film as an educational, help resource for us struggling students is a great watch. In no way would I ever decide to watch this shoddy adaptation for a laugh or for actual entertainment.

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