Set in the countryside of Messina, Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is comedic, romantic, and cheerful. The film consists of a star-studded cast, including Branagh as Benedick, Emma Thompson as Beatrice, Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, Kate Beckinsale as Hero, and Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio to name a few.
The film opens with a voice over from Thompson reciting lyrics from Act two scene three: “sigh no more, ladies…”, these lyrics will be repeated twice more throughout the movie. Branagh’s choice to repeat the lyrics from act two scene three both in song and in poetry, help to set the merry and cheerful tone of the movie. The repetition of the lyrics is seen at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the film and helps to wrap up the film in a way. The Messina countryside also helps to create a sunny and joyful atmosphere, while also creating a sense of seclusion and escape from reality, which helps to captivate the audience.
In classic Shakespearian style, mistaken identity, lies, and deceit lead to a series of events that provide the humour for this movie. Don Pedro and his men are visiting Leonato (Richard Brier) after returning from war; Claudio (Leonard) one of Don Pedro’s men has fallen in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Beckinsale).
Keanu Reeves plays the part of the villain Don John, and to be honest he plays the part quite poorly – learning that Reeves had been nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for this role did not come as a surprise. In the scene between Don John and his henchman Conrad, Reeves portrayal of Don John is awkward and at times over dramatic. Reeves exclaiming, “it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain” is just not convincing. Nonetheless, due to Don John’s cunning actions the weddings between Claudio and Hero does not go as planned.
Much Ado About Nothing contains two love stories; Hero and Claudio are the first and Benedick (Branagh) and Beatrice (Thompson) are the second. Benedick and Beatrice are both proud bachelors/bachelorettes who provide many laughs through their flirtatious banter and mockery of each other and others.
The masquerade scene shows the captivating costume and set designs, as well as Branagh and Thompson’s excellent portrayals of the sarcastic and witty Benedick and Beatrice. While the whole cast, with the exception of Reeves, is excellent, Branagh and Thompson really shine in their respective roles. While in the courtyard, after hearing of Beatrice’s love for him, Benedick states, “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”, this line demonstrates Branagh’s outstanding portrayal of Benedick and excellent comedic timing.
Michael Keaton plays Dogberry, the slightly creepy but sincere policeman who ends up saving the day. The character of Dogberry adds humour through his inappropriate use of words, for example, when leaving the Watchman, Dogberry states, “Adieu, be vigitant” (I believe meaning, be vigilant). Furthermore, Dogberry’s actions add humour, most noticeably through the fact that he always trots off as if he is on a horse rather than walking like a person.
As like the majority of Shakespeare films, large parts of dialogue have been removed in Branagh’s adaptation. For example act 3 scene 4 with Beatrice, Margaret and Hero speaking before the wedding, was cut out entirely. However, Branagh’s decision to cut out parts of dialogue does not take away from the plot or tone of the film in any sense. While dialogue is cut out, actions, music, and different camera techniques help to enhance the film in a way that the stage would not be able to. For example, Benedick falling in his chair while eavesdropping adds to the humour of the scene and the overall humour of the character. The composer, Patrick Doyle, uses appropriate music that helps to set the sometimes sombre, but often joyous and comedic tone of the film. Lastly, the cinematography adds to the whimsical and happy tone of the film, most notably through the long shot of Don Pedro and his men on horseback when they arrive, or the zoom out shot at the end of the film showing the happy and dancing people throughout the villa.
Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing is an excellent interpretation of Shakespeare’s work; full of comedy and romance, this film will leave you craving more like it.