Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado About Nothing is generally considered the definitive version. It’s probably the one you were shown in English Lit that one time. The period setting, the big set pieces and the generally competent handling of verse set it apart from some of the other Shakespeare adaptations of the 1990s, and Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson provide arguably the best version of Benedict and Beatrice to hit the silver screen.
With all of that in mind, we sat down together to watch it again, partly because it’s great but mostly because our Artistic Director really fancies Kenneth Branagh. And I’ve got some bad news – it turns out that the film isn’t quite as good as we remembered. You probably remember the classic chapel scene, and the beautiful scenery. But do you remember Oily Keanu Reeves? Or how much walk and talk there is in this film? Or that Michael Keaton, of Batman and Birdman fame, clocks in a career-worst performance here? Get ready for Much Review About Nothing: the Branagh Edition, with Kate, Kosi and I.
And we’re off! Well, after a nicely read but uncomfortably long prologue about all men being scumbags.
Wow. Everyone who was anyone in 90s British cinema was in this film. And by that I mean Brian Blessed and Imelda Staunton.
Keanu, why are you victory punching? You lost, dude. That’s the set up of the entire film.
EVERYONE IS SUDDENLY NAKED. WHY? WHY NAKED?
There is so much buttock in this film. I do not remember this and I’m guessing critics and English Lit teachers must have forgotten too.
OK they’re putting their clothes back on again after an uncomfortably long bathing scene. But how does anyone know whose clothes are whose? Everyone in this film dresses exclusively in white!
Time for the first Benedict vs Beatrice sparring match. And it’s fierce enough that an entire noisy courtyard of people stops to watch two people talk quietly to each other in a corner.
Why does Don Pedro have a weird silver cup for his walk around a garden? Is there anything in it? Has he stolen it? Why does it suddenly disappear? So many questions and so few answers.
“Come thronging and delicate desires” – I think Claudio has just hit puberty and I feel like there will be dire consequences for all. Also, the plan for Don Pedro to woo Hero while pretending to be Claudio is the same sort of stupid as “pretend to be dead and someone will fix it”.
Oh my. I had forgotten about this scene. Oily, oily Keanu Reeves getting a homoerotic massage from Henchman #1. It’s fortunate that he is so distractingly naked and shiny because pretty much everything else in this scene is awful. I can only assume that Branagh was also too distracted by the light bouncing off Keanu’s abs to be able to offer much direction.
“I would take a bite out of oily Keanu” – Kosi’s input on this scene.
“Naked wistful Keanu has a powerful underscore” – Kate’s input. I’m assuming this is about the music and not an innuendo.
It’s time for a big party scene! Leonato & co are literally walking across the dancefloor in a 6-man long line, which looks neither practical, nor comfortable. Is there nowhere to sit down in all of Messina?
Ah. OK. There is a single bench but Imelda Staunton is having sex on it. So that explains that.
This is the weirdest party. It’s just a montage of grapes, sex and goat masks interspersed in no particular order.
And now Benedict is doing a silly accent. The sort of silly accent which would only make it into the final cut of a film if the director was the one doing it.
But then everytime you think it can’t get any sillier, Emma Thompson casually sidles onto screen and does a masterclass in making people feel things. Doubly poignant now because it’s quite reminiscent of her character in Love Actually. And because Thomson and Branagh very sadly divorced after this film was made, breaking up the golden couple of British cinema. Booooo.
Ooooh OK it’s time for the proposal. There are more twinkles than Tinkerbell in this underscoring and it’s incredibly distracting. Also – it’s good that Hero has great eyebrows since they are having to do most of the acting for her. The poor girl hasn’t had a line in about 25 minutes.
Judging by the arrangement of the characters in pretty much every stage of this scene, I have to assume it is the custom to stand in awkwardly long straight lines at parties. Even if you can’t see the person you are addressing.
“When mean you to go to church”
“Tomorrow, my lord”
Whoa there, Claudio. You only just hit puberty; maybe let’s chill for a bit before you find out about sex. I don’t think the heavy handed underscoring could take it.
And we’re into the first of many close ups of Branagh monologuing.
What’s that? Vanity project? What a totally unfounded accusation.
Don Pedro’s weird silver cup is back. Is it the only prop he is allowed? Did Branagh steal all of the good ones, like the comedy collapsing deckchair?
If no one falls in the fountain, I shall be cross because it will be a waste of a perfectly placed bit of set.
Claudio’s accent is migrating rapidly. Where is he supposed to be from? Otherwise the tricking scene is actually pretty stellar, as they play it straight and let the script speak for itself.
The scene between Beatrice and Benedict immediately after is absolute gold.
Why does Beatrice have a knife and where does she keep it?
We may never know but I hope it makes a reappearance.
The women tricking Beatrice is also excellent, largely due to Emma Thompson having fun in the background with a series of well placed statues.
“He is the only man of Italy” – um Hero, I think you’ve forgotten Oily Keanu there. I certainly haven’t.
BENEDICT IS IN THE FOUNTAIN
I CALLED IT
NOW THEY’RE DOING A WEIRD OVERLAY WITH SWINGS AND FOUNTAINS BUT I DON’T REALLY CARE BECAUSE KENNETH BRANAGH IN A FOUNTAIN. HE HAS AN OLIVIER DID YOU KNOW?
Although trying to explain why you’re soaking wet at dinner ought to be fun.
We interrupt this period Shakespeare to bring you Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Why are they Irish Dancing? Even more questions.
The casting of Keaton as Dogberry was widely panned and unfortunately, I can completely see why. It feels like he doesn’t understand why the lines are so funny – he’s trying to mask them with a stupid Jack Nicholson impression and mindless slapstick.
Does Don John live in the cellars? I can understand why he’s a bit bitter about things if everyone else got nice rooms and he was actually sent to the cellars to be alone and oily.
The scene where fake Hero has lots of naughty pre-marital coitus is also fairly well done, although it does rely on every woman in this part of Italy having the exact same hairstyle. And Imelda Staunton having an absurd amount of sex.
More of a criticism of the script here, but it’s convenient that Borachio comes out and gives Conrad a blow-by-blow (cheeky) account of his day here, so that everyone gets to hear it. Rather than going “you know, stuff. Sex. Villainy.”
Keaton’s Dogberry has gone from irritating to a little psychotic here. Leave poor old Ben Elton’s eyes alone. He needs them to spot better parts in other feature films.
The thing with this scene is that as Robert Sean Leonard plays it, he looks like an arsehole on account of him being really cold and scheme-y. Which is OK if you want your audience to hate Claudio. But not if you insist on constantly underscoring him with twinkles and fairy dust. It sends mixed messages.
STOP HITTING HERO IT’S ABUSE. I don’t care if you just hit puberty and you have a lot of feelings. It’s bad manners.
Also – called it on the pretty but precarious wedding decor. He literally flips every bench he can find because Claudio has a lot of #feelings. And #angst.
Hero has fainted. I can only assume that the effort of having more than four lines in a scene is too much for her. To be honest, she’s done so little in this one that they may as well have brought her on already unconscious.
Leonato, your daughter’s already passed out. STOP HITTING HER. Toxic masculinity, man.
Brian Blessed is crying and not interfering. Be more like Brian.
The chapel scene between Beatrice and Benedict is still one of the best bits of any Shakespeare film ever. It’s a short and turbulent scene but they manage to hit every character beat in a very natural and moving way. And chuck a few more benches because why not. Leonato’s furniture bill is going to be enormous at the end of this.
Keanu is back in the cellar but he is now running, laughing and fist pumping simultaneously.
I think the Sexton is all of us in the interrogation scene. He’s done with your crap, Dogberry.
Also – where is Dogberry supposed to be from? “Devon/Ireland” is proposed by Kosi.
I think Dogberry is the real villain here. He could literally be saying anything in that voice and we would never know.
You earn that screentime, Conrad. You yell those lines.
Leonato and Brian Blessed are back and having a bit more #angst. I’d love to know what Hero is up to right now. If she’s sensible, it’ll be Tinder and a lot of wine and romcoms.
Kate says she wants Brian to roar. I concur.
Richard Briers is utterly heartbreaking as Leonato in this scene. Brian Blessed is also good but a little overshadowed by his enormous sleeves. You could get a small child into one of them.
I would back Brian in a fight with Robert Sean Leonard though.
Benedict is confronting Claudio and being #manly and #heroic and #dashing. Also – Robert Sean Leonard has a really squishy face.
Kate correctly predicts a slow zoom and dramatic underscore as Claudio discovers that he’s been shortlisted for the Worst Decision Made By A Romantic Hero award. (Other nominees include Romeo, Ross Poldark and Edward Cullen)
We interrupt this classic film to bring you the beginning of Shrek.
Are those the demons from CBBC’s Raven in the background of the funeral scene? I hope so.
Benedict trying to write a poem that rhymes is all of us in English Lit. The struggle is real.
It’s nice that they’ve managed to mend the wedding decor so quickly. And apparently they’ve managed to also mend Hero because with barely any screentime at all since the wedding, she’s come back all good as new and ready to marry the psycho who tried to attack her. True love.
Claudio’s face as he sees Hero again looks distinctly like an orgasm face. Sorry.
And now we run! Because running is fun! We love to run! Even though the place we’re running from was laid out for the thing we are running to do! But running is more fun than logic or financial solvency!
Keanu is back to interrupt your happy running and underscoring. Which is a blessed relief. But then he gets taken away and everyone else dances!
For a very long time!
Except Don Pedro because no dancing for you, Don Pedro. You’re apparently going to die alone for no special reason beyond Shakespeare not feeling up to a triple wedding.
Total Scenes of Walk and Talk: 17
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Almost Cricket. It’s still pretty good. It’s just not as good as we all remembered.