The Definitive Ranking of Shakespeare’s Best Couples


In a belated celebration of Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday, we’ve been taking a look back over some of his most iconic couples. Some of them were inspirational and uplifting – relationships which have stood the test of time, remaining relevant some centuries after their creation. And some stabbed each other, stabbed themselves, stabbed their friends and ruined major nation states through incomprehensibly bad decisions. Read on for our entirely biased, completely arbitrary ranking of Shakespeare’s best romances. Oh, and a few dishonourable mentions.

10. Touchstone and Aubrey, As You Like It
In a play stuffed with ridiculous love triangles and gender switcheroos, this couple stands out as being both fairly sensible and very time efficient. While everyone else runs round cross-dressing and sticking things to trees, Touchstone the Fool woos Aubrey the goat girl in about three pages of dialogue and both are thoroughly content with the outcome. Afterwards, he very sweetly promises to kill a rival “a hundred and fifty ways” if he tries anything dodgy.

9. Ferdinand and Miranda, The Tempest

Ferdinand is probably also rubbish at chess, but he’ll be very nice about it.

A man so attractive that he makes Miranda hit puberty on the spot, Ferdinand is also sort of endearing in how pathetic he is. He is hopeless at all of the really heroic stuff he attempts – swordfighting, log carrying, standing up to anyone at all throughout the play – but he makes up for it with being so genuine and kind to Miranda. And she is every inch his equal, with an excellent sense of humour and a superhuman ability to carry timber. They’re in it for the long run.

8. Regan and the Duke of Cornwall, King Lear
You know what they say – couples that gouge together, stay together. At least until he’s (SPOILER) assassinated by a servant who’s not such a fan of the gouging. But Cornwall stands by Regan when she’s having some family issues, and she is every bit his equal in the political realm. And it’s nice to share hobbies, even if the hobbies are a little grotesque. They lose points for Regan hitting on someone else before Cornwall is even properly buried, but while they were together, they were an unstoppable force.

7. Henry V and Katherine of Valois, Henry V
They only really get one scene together, but this pair are an example of triumphing over adversity. In this case, the adversity is that he’s just killed thousands of her countrymen – probably a few of her relatives too – and disinherited her entire family to make himself King of France. But hey, they find a way to work around that, and even conquer the language barrier caused by all English people being dreadful at French to make this list.

She did make a very pretty boy, after all.

6. Viola and the Duke of Orsino, Twelfth Night

Both hilarious and bizarre, this is the most touching section of the tangled love web formed in Twelfth Night. She’s in love with him but can’t tell him because she’s dressed as a man and she’s trying to woo someone for him. He’s in love with someone else but she’s so attractive even as a man that he starts to question his own sexuality. Plus, it spawned the best romcom ever made about football and cross dressing.

5. Hamlet and Ophelia, Hamlet
These two scrape into the top five on the basis that they clearly do care about each other, even if they’re utterly awful at being together or expressing how they feel. But the best breakup scene in Shakespeare, followed by some truly moving scenes after (SPOILER) Ophelia drowns herself, give these two a spot on the list. Even if she spies on him, he stabs her father, they both go a bit mad and neither actually declare their love to each other. It still gave Shakespeare the chance to make the best genital related pun on record.

4. Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Aesthetically pleasing but not at all Health and Safety approved.

They may be borderline hysterical, hasty and hopeless at forward planning. But they’re iconic for a reason, and it gave Shakespeare a chance to write some of his most famous and beautiful love poetry. Critics have argued whether or not it was intended as a warning about irresponsible young love, but either way the story is a tear jerker. Bonus – it’s been ripped off by everyone from cheerleaders to vampires to High School Musical.

3. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
He’s weak and indecisive and takes advice from strange women with dodgy potions. She’s cold, power hungry and obsessive about cleanliness. Together, they commit treason, homicide and an array of other crimes before being brought down by an army pretending to be trees. Yes, they come to a disappointing end as a couple but it’s brilliant while it lasts and after all, it’s nice to do things together. Like bring down the kingdom of Scotland.

2. Beatrice and Benedict, Much Ado About Nothing
The best bickering couple in literature, these two trade insults like they’re going out of fashion. They have the benefit of being the comic relief in a comedy, but their scenes are some of Shakespeare’s best comedic writing. Admittedly, he dumped her once already, and she tries to convince him to kill his best friend; he’s awful at love poetry and they both have to be tricked into saying anything nice about each other. But no one’s perfect and they get this spot on the list for being so much fun to watch.

Dishonourable mentions:

Claudius and Gertrude, Hamlet
It starts off as treasonous and a bit incestuous. It ends with most of the Danish Royal Court dead. It doesn’t really get better in the middle either.

Othello and Desdemona, Othello
Any points this couple get for being forward thinking on racial matters are wiped out by his ability to jump to conclusions based on angry subordinate officers and handkerchiefs. Not cool, Othello

Goneril and the Duke of Albany, King Lear
The only question with these two is why anyone thought they would make a suitable couple. She hates him, he’s scared of her, she betrays him and he can’t even muster up a little bit of sadness after she runs off and (SPOILERS) kills herself.

And the best couple in all of Shakespeare?

1. Hamlet and Horatio, Hamlet

They even do nice things together! Like visit graveyards and ruin funerals.

Horatio is probably the best friend in all of literature. He’s supportive of Hamlet, even when Hamlet goes mad, is rude to everyone in the vicinity, puts on poorly considered plays and commits multiple homicides. He doesn’t even judge when Hamlet takes the advice of a ghost, comes back from time abroad with some rubbish about pirates and doesn’t even try to excuse sending other friends to their deaths. I’m not totally sure what Hamlet brings to this relationship other than uncontrolled verbosity, but these two are cute together, and there’s not a shred of betrayal in sight.

Much Review About Nothing: The Joss Whedon Edition

Much Review About Nothing

This week, we take a look at the much acclaimed black and white 2012 edition of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon. He filmed it in 12 days, shortly after wrapping on Avengers Assemble and the entire film was shot in his private home. As often seems to be the case, this entire cast is made up of “the one from that thing, you know?” – in this case, rather than obscure BBC shows, it’s the entirety of Joss Whedon’s back catalogue. Agent Coulson, that bloke from Firefly and most of the background extras in Avengers Assemble pop up in various guises. If they weren’t so good, you would have to assume that Joss Whedon was the ultimate I-only-cast-my-friends director. (We all know one)

And is it any good? Well, yes. It’s well thought out, it’s nicely shot and there is not a single Styrofoam lion to be found. The text seems to work well in the setting and there are no rogue cast members attempting to derail or distract so broadly, I’m calling this one a success. The main takeaway I had from it is that the plot works better when you assume everyone was permanently either hammered or hungover – evidently, Joss Whedon has a very well stocked alcohol cupboard. And with that, onto Much Review About Nothing: The Joss Whedon Edition!

This version has also chosen to begin with Beatrice and Benedict’s backstory, and it’s another case of Benedict The Horrible Love Rat as he walks out on Beatrice after a night together. Bit of a somber start, especially given most stage versions begin with a flotilla of minstrels and a party.

We switch to the present time and Agent Coulson is here! He is playing Leonato, who receives a text rather than the usual Ye Olde Scroll to inform the household that Don Pedro is approached. I’m unclear as to what war has just occurred, but it’s apparently not terribly exciting as most of the household are far more concerned with the salad preparation than the news of a war being over.

Agent Coulson just did a little roar. Not quite a Brian Blessed sized roar but a roar nonetheless, and with very little context or justification. I also appreciate Beatrice’s desire to have a knife in her hand whenever she refers to Benedict, but it’s hindering everyone else’s salad prep.

There is a fairly lowkey entrance from the victorious army – Don Pedro and his cohort of “soldiers” look less like battle weary soldiers and a bit more like Sixth Formers returning from a particularly hard General Studies lesson. Except for Borachio, who looks about 12 and surely isn’t old enough to either go to war or drink.

Beatrice and Benedict have their first verbal spar in private, whilst angrily flower arranging. I had never considered aggressive floristry as a potential method of attack against an ex-lover but I will consider it such henceforth.

Dramatic music as Don John has appeared. He seems to be restrained with freezer ties…this is one of a few moments in the film where you stop and ponder – Art? Or budgetary limitations?

Most of the discussion over whether Claudio should marry Hero takes place in a very obvious children’s bedroom, with obvious tiny children’s beds.

We interrupt this high brow Shakespeare to bring you a deleted scene from Mamma Mia

Either no one is going to sleep at all while they’re here, or they’re going to be highly uncomfortable. Benedict monologuing around a giant Barbie house only serves to underline this situation.

And now they wrestle on the tiny beds, which looks hazardous to them and also to the structural integrity of the bedframes.
It’s all lots of fun, although I do have trouble believing any of them were at war until recently.

Now we cut to Don John, who seems to have been given a sex cage rather than a children’s room. Which is just as well, since Conrade is A) a woman and B) not being very subtle about what she’s actually doing in his room. I wonder with this scene whether every director that approaches it finds it so dull that they have to spice it up with caverns, oil or sex. Or possibly all three. Either way, plotting and villainous monologues are currently second fiddle to general sexy behaviour.

Borachio enters as they are getting towards the business end of things, and they have to stop with all of the sex. For now. Probably just as well since Borachio looks about 12 – not old enough to have had a full Sex Education class, much less actually do the deed himself.
The second he leaves, they jump right back to it against a door. This must be a little bit weird for Joss Whedon considering that it’s not a film set, it’s actually his house.

We interrupt this highly acclaimed production to bring you Laurence of Arabia. Is it me or is most of this film Benedict in silly disguises?

We cut to the party preparations, and Agent Coulson is wearing a very fetching paisley scarf. Beatrice appears to have overdone it on the predrinks and is drunk while everyone else is getting started.

Drinking near a swimming pool may be aesthetically pleasing but it is also incredibly dangerous so lose 10 points for your poor party planning, Agent Coulson. Borachio reveals an unexpected talent for piano playing – this film is nothing if not efficient, it would seem.

There is a drunk man hitting on Beatrice and he is doing his level best to pull focus throughout most of the scene. An attitude I can fully get behind – you milk that screen time, drunk man. But then Benedict comes along and one-ups him by threatening Beatrice with a flaming marshmallow. Then joins a conga line. Why not?

When the hangover hits

We reach the morning after and EVERYONE IS IN THE POOL. WHY? Did you miss my memo about it being dangerous??
It’s not quite everyone; it’s actually just Claudio surrounded by Don John, Conrade and Borachio, leading to questions about what on earth was going on under the water.
Having been confused by the Bad Guys Swimming Club, Claudio storms straight into the house to find Benedict. And hungover Benedict has no time for your misunderstandings, Claudio. He is cleaning the house the morning after, like an A+++ party guest though, so points to Benedict.

Still-drunk Don Pedro is riffing away on a guitar. He’s not terribly good but he is a prince so no one says anything.
It’s a genius move to have these conversations played out as though everyone is drunk and/or overexcited though, since it explains the sillier bits of the Shakespeare without assuming that the characters are a bit stupid.

I also like to conduct my Shakespearean villainy from the comfort of a heated swimming pool

Hero looks fairly unenthused about marrying Claudio and based off it being agreed while everyone was sozzled, I can concur with that. Don Pedro drunkenly propositioning Beatrice works beautifully though.

More shots! How is anyone sober around here? Hero evidently isn’t as she is substituting having any lines for pulling focus by spitting out her drink at unexpected moments. Got to work with what you’re given, I guess.

Don John has found out about Claudio and Hero via an air vent of plot convenience, and he is unhappy about it. But telling the 12 year old to go and seduce people seems like a poor solution – I definitely had a poor grip on the concept of sex aged 12.

Benedict grousing about love while surrounded by Wedding Admin is perfect. Less perfect is the decision to have a different woman appear every time he mentions women in general.

“Shall we hear this music?” and an iPod is connected. Genius. Points to Whedon for that one. It’s also very nicely staged to have Benedict on the other side of the windows during the tricking scene, leading to general hijinks and commando rolling around in the background.

This is followed by some unconvincing yoga as Benedict attempts to impress Beatrice with his Cobra. Not an innuendo.

“Just act natural,” they said

Then Beatrice rather dramatically falls down the stairs. Which looked both dangerous and painful but apparently she’s A-OK and the scene continues. Hero and Margaret are both played by extras in Avengers Assemble – I hope that saves you an IMDB trip if you were watching and wondering where you had seen them before.

We’re back in the lads’ bedroom/6 year old girl’s room again and a ladder of toys has been added in the corner. Benedict has shaved and Don Pedro and Claudio are doing lots of manly fist-bumping.

But then an ominous underscoring begins and Don John appears, accompanied by the eerie harmonica music of betrayal. I like to imagine it was just Joss Whedon playing a harmonica off camera for the atmosphere.

Oooooh here is Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry as an overly earnest home-security man. And it works! He’s accompanied by a troupe of incompetent interns as the Watch and it’s frankly a masterclass in making difficult Shakespeare work.

They stumble across Conrad and Borachio, who has had possibly his first ever taste of alcohol. It hasn’t agreed with him.
And suddenly we plunge into some slightly seedy soft-focus flashback scenes, in case the audience isn’t smart enough to work out what “wooed” means in this context. Sex. He means sex. They are then arrested by the interns, who look far too young to be handling firearms.

It’s wedding time, and the Messenger from way back in the first scene is here and throwing shade as much as his hastily expanded part allows. Which is to say, he’s doing an awful lot with very little.
Agent Coulson looks adorably ready for a wedding. He should rock this look in Marvel movies too.

Props to the photographer for continuing to photograph the wedding as it takes a turn south and Claudio starts hurling accusations of sex around. She’s been paid for a job and she’s clearly going to do it, regardless of what the content of the photos is.

Just a quiet country wedding, they said. What could go wrong, they said. Friar Francis decided he needed to start charging more.

The issue of setting it in the modern day is that it feels very uncomfortable seeing people discussing virginity, or a lack of, in public. Although how much of that is my crippling Britishness is up for debate.
But the Messenger clearly agrees with me since he’s awkwardly trying to shoo away the crowds. Or perhaps he’s still just trying to build his part.

Benedict sneaks away for a shot mid-service. This is the sort of wedding etiquette I can get behind. Meanwhile, Hero faints, slightly anti-climatically and probably just because the lines don’t make sense without it.

And now Agent Coulson is having a fatherhood crisis and alternating between hugging Hero and threatening to kill her if she’s had sex. Fathers in Shakespeare – who’d have them? Between Lord Capulet, Lear, Gloucester and now Leonato, there aren’t many solid models for parenthood circa 1600.

The famous post-wedding scene between Beatrice and Benedict takes place in the dining room. Unsure if they were both moping or or hoping to take advantage of all of the free catering. Or both.
Beatrice telling Benedict to duel Claudio now sounds like an even more onerous obligation since first, he’s going to have to work out what on earth a duel looks like in the 2010s. Water guns? Gladiator podiums? I would opt for the latter.

Time for a much less macabre interrogation scene than is often the case, and the Sexton looks like anyone would look when presented with a room of interns with a lot of feelings. He’s also staggeringly competent by comparison and it’s wonderful.

Don Pedro and Claudio are STILL drunk (go crazy, since clearly Joss Whedon is paying) and are only sobered up by a double whammy of Benedict suddenly slapping Claudio and a heavy dose of underscoring. And still no one is bothered that dueling is highly impractical.

The Watch have brought Conrad and Borachio (I’ve finally worked out who he reminds me of and it’s a budget Alex Pettyfer from about 2005) to confess their crimes. Agent Coulson gets to demonstrate some serious acting chops – this scene is actually very moving.
It’s then promptly upstaged by Dogberry; Nathan Fillion is scene-stealing as only he can.

But then we take a turn for the drastically happier as Benedict sings badly and woos Beatrice with aplomb, all while aping the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

They’ve reassembled the wedding set with incredible efficiency, and the same photographer is back! I wonder what she’s been up to, and I hope they pay her extra for double wedding duty.
Happily, Don Pedro is finally sober for the first time since the shoot began.

And we end on a less frenzied and more relaxed note than other adaptations, with a little bit of music and an awful lot of dorky disco dancing all round.

Drinks Consumed On Screen: A highly concerning 34. I don’t know who picked up the tab for that one.
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Cricket. A smart, fast and very competent version of the play with excellent acting and beautiful cinematography.

Much Review About Nothing: The More Cool BBC edition

Much Review About Nothing

Much Review About Nothing is back, and this time it’s modern! And cool! And no one speaks in ye olde English, because clearly the BBC programmers had a crisis in 2005 and decided that having survived 400ish years, Shakespeare’s scripts had run their course and simply had to be replaced. The result? Four adaptations of his best known works set in different workplaces, with entirely modern language.

Does it work? Well…sort of. Macbeth received excellent reviews at the time, but having rewatched it, it’s very hard to see why. It’s James McAvoy looking sad while dissecting bacon. And Much Ado About Nothing? Well, it has an awful lot of people in it who went onto much more impressive things. Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, Sergeant Brody from Homeland, Gary from Miranda and that one who was on Merlin one time all make appearances. This Much Ado is set in a local news station, and follows the plot but not the script of the original play. What did we think? Well, read on to find out – here is Much Review About Nothing: The More Cool BBC Edition.

And we open with a montage! Damian Lewis (who I once saw in Prezzo) and the woman who’s been in everything on the BBC (a hasty Google informs me she is Sarah Parish) are getting ready for a date. Damian has sprayed his crotch with deodorant for reasons best known only to himself.

Ahhh…OK. It’s Beatrice and Benedict’s backstory. He’s a nasty man who stood her up, although she gets an enormous amount of wine instead so I would question if she really lost out there.

We cut to three years later and everyone’s hair has gotten bigger. A fair assessment of the 2000s. In a totally laudable upgrade to the original Shakespeare, most of the opening dialogue is discussing local news stories which are so British, it hurts.

Gary from Miranda is here! And in this film he is playing…Gary from Miranda. In fairness, I think the only other thing I remember him for was wearing a dodgy wig in Merlin so maybe it’s best he stuck to what he was good at.

Our Don John in this story is just called “Don”, and makes one small mistake while putting together a newsreel. This presumably dooms him to villainhood for the rest of the play as mistakes at work equal EVIL INTENTIONS in this world.

Claude (Claudio)’s tie matches Hero’s dress. It can only mean true love.

This version also nails Dogberry and Verges, making them irritatingly officious security guards. There is an awful lot to like so far. It pains me to say it but it’s true.

Beatrice has a co-anchor who is old, pervy and possibly senile. He is also not in the original plot and hence is shuffled off after about half a scene. But Beatrice needs a new co-anchor, and there is now a sexy-ginger-shaped hole on that news sofa…

Sexism swinging both ways here:
“Can’t you just buy a new sofa?” from Beatrice – evidently new furniture is an adequate replacement for men.
“All of the men look at Hero like that. That’s why you have her on the show.” – gross, and doubly gross when that line is addressed to her dad.
“Bit sexist to compare a woman to a car.” “Depends on the car.” Nice.

But all might be forgiven as this version of Benedict is a creepy late night antiques dealer and I’m can see nothing wrong with that concept.

I can find nothing wrong with this picture.

Hero has Claude mesmerised with her wobbly pen trick. Not an innuendo and in fairness, I was also bewitched by that one the first time I saw it.

Oh but it’s time for some HEAVY BACKSTORY as we find out that in this version, Hero and Don (John) had sex one time. Huh. I guess they’re not going for Hero being made entirely of angel tears and chastity belts in this edition. I’m sure that somewhere, there will be some Shakespeare purists screaming but I’ll take it over the versions where the poor girl doesn’t get a line until Act Three.

It’s time for a fancy dress party! Are all of the costumes specially designed to reveal something not-so-subtle about the characters? You betcha. Hero is Marilyn Monroe, further cementing the Naughty Hero vibes this version is chucking about. They’ve also chosen to throw some mummy issues in for good measure, to up the #angst quota. They never really get mentioned again, though.

Margaret has come as every one of us at at least one Halloween party in our lives – “some sort of vaguely sexy cat”, but Ursula definitely wins this round as Little Miss Muffet. It ain’t subtle but this version sure is fun.

And of course, Beatrice has come as the ultimate single woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Don John (dressed as some hybrid of Cher from Clueless and the Joker before Heath Ledger made it cool) mildly insinuates to Claude that maybe Hero might have at some point come into contact with another man before him. Claude, who appears to be entirely ruled by his genitals, flies into an inconsolable rage at this idea. And what an idea – women touching things! In the world! How dare we!

Dogberry and Verges are on the verge(s) of flirting. It’s a couple I never knew I wanted and yet I really do.

We never actually see Claude resolve his anger with Hero, because the next thing you know, he is busy making out with Hero again. Beatrice and Benedict mimicking the two of them in love is a masterstroke from the BBC. Nuance be damned, this is hilarious.
I am sad, however, that there is a perfectly good pool and no one has ended up in it. Did they learn nothing from Kenneth Branagh’s version?

Don John is properly evil in this version. He’s not just an Elizabethan emo like all of the others, he’s a lonely, twisted and manipulative man. And you know what? It works.

Claude and Hero definitely went from a first date to an engagement in under seven minutes of screentime. Bit keen.

“You really put the W into Anchorman”. Gold. I’m borrowing that one.

Benedict is now debating shaving his pervy antiques dealer beard off. I’m in favour, but I’ve fancied Damian Lewis ever since his five minute turn as a clean-shaven Russian assassin on Stormbreaker (remember that one?).

The need to trick Benedict

is a little unexplained in this one, as Peter (Don Pedro)’s character has largely been absorbed into Leonard (Leonato), who never announces plans to make Beatrice and Benedict fall in love. It is, however, enjoyably meta – they’ve actually pre-planned their conversation on a script in the recording booth.

Beatrice has arrived at Hero’s hen party dressed as hot, bitchy Tinkerbell. And within ten seconds of meeting Benedict, makes a masturbation joke. Keep it PG, guys.

“There’s a large blue ball in your wardrobe” – as it very much were

“Are you smoking crack?” Beatrice says what we’re all thinking, watching Damian Lewis try and fail utterly to use an exercise ball. In his defence, I’m not actually sure what they’re there for, other than as disappointing space hoppers.

It would appear that it’s innuendo hour at the BBC as Hero and Margaret discuss “doing it” in a suspiciously clean nightclub bathroom. But seriously – where are the bits of mashed up loo roll and empty plastic cups?

“Why do they say sense of humour when they mean sex?” – CAN I GET AN AMEN

Don is back being a Proper Baddie, but he’s forgotten that CCTV is alive and well in this world. Rather than having to interrogate drunken henchman as in the original, Dogberry manages to locate Don’s villainy through being good at admin.

Beatrice hiding in a cubicle is all of us in clubs once we’re over the age of 20.

Hero and Margaret’s conversation in this version plays out beautifully as well, with Hero acting like a decent, concerned friend and Margaret bitching about Beatrice for all she’s worth. And taking it a little too far. Also, with regard to one of her insults, a night in with pitta and houmous sounds pretty ideal to me.

Damian has shaved! Perhaps he got the memo about stubble rash. Either way – it looks good.

Everyone is arriving for the wedding, and Benedict and Beatrice have been put in adjacent rooms in a hotel with a secret door between them (oo-er). I feel this definitely violates guest privacy laws. But it’s hella convenient for the plot so no objections here.

Meanwhile, Don has confronted Claude about Hero’s supposed infidelity, through the medium of a poorly assembled collage of Hero’s face and a forged reference to doing the naughty sometime.

Claude flips out at this display of poor craftsmanship and throws Don against a bookcase again and again. And again. And every time he does it, I become less and less convinced that the books are real.

Back to Beatrice and Benedict, and Benedict is reading the only book he has brought with him. And it’s a book of sonnets! What are the chances? Low. The chances are low. It’s an extreme case of plot convenience.

Now they’re on the same bed! JUST MAKE OUT ALREA


DY. Cease and desist with this sexually charged GCSE English Lit session.


They don’t kiss.

Beatrice’s reaction to the sad lack of kiss is all of our reaction to the sad lack of kiss.

Back to the less happy side of the story and Don has manage to make Hero look like a liar to Claude. Which fills in a crucial plot hole in the original Shakespeare as originally it was only Don John’s word against Hero’s, making Claudio look like an idiot and an asshole. This Claudio/Claude has evidence that Hero can’t be trusted. Even if it’s the evidence of a whiny little man who can’t operate cameras properly. (The clues were there from the start)

It’s time for the wedding. This can only go well. Claude looks constipated, Benedict is cracking inappropriate jokes and Beatrice has chosen to go bra-free, placing this production firmly in the 2000s.

“You’re beautiful. I’m sorry” – and with that, Gary from Miranda turns this into the wedding from hell.

And it is nasty. This version goes SO DARK. Less hair pulling and set destruction, but lots of verbal mud flinging. Props to Hero who shouts right back, and extra credit to this version’s Leonato/Leonard who sensibly sides with his daughter in the face of her psycho fiance. And rather than fainting, Hero storms out of the church in a flurry of lace, tulle and righteous fury.

The chapel scene that follows is beautifully scored (take note, Branagh) and other than a final awkward sex joke, the loving moment between Benedict and Beatrice is genuinely beautiful. And topped off with a hug that feels more appropriate and loving than a kiss would have been.

Beatrice’s exhortation to “kill Claude”, however, comes across as near-sociopathic. Probably because duels are a little frowned upon in this period, even if the victim in question is a colossal asshat with poor wedding etiquette.

Steamy stuff from the BBC

But it’s followed by a hot angsty kiss, complete with dramatic bouquet ejection (still not an innuendo). DAMN.

Claude and Don are drunk together and this is utterly unacceptable. I am not well versed in male drinking/dating etiquette but I feel like a line has been crossed here for Claude to be drinking with the man that ruined his wedding. Even if Gary from Miranda makes a very convincing drunk.

But what is this? Hero has made a highly irregular appearance post-wedding! Psst, Hero, everyone knows that girls that might have had sex one time are supposed to hide away and fake death while everyone else decides what happens to you…
And rather than allow the patriarchy to decide her fate, she smacks Don in the face.
It’s great.

And then, alas, she falls backwards into a pillar because there is only so far you can bend the plot before you have to abandon it all together. And the plot demands an unconscious Hero because in Much Ado, men only begin to feel bad after an instance of serious injury or death.

That’s a LOT of blood. Maybe they had some left over from Macbeth.

This adaptation has committed to going darker than most can go, since unlike in the normal productions where the audience knows it’s a fake-out, Hero’s life is in serious danger here due to the cruel manipulations of one man.

I’m sort of missing the local news stories right now. I could do with a welly wanging tournament to lighten things up a bit.

But in the midst of all of this, there is some happy news as Benedict finally makes amends for standing Beatrice up in the pre-credits scene. I would still have taken the wine, personally.

Claude and Hero’s story is wrapped up in a far more progressive manner, with Hero refusing to jump straight back into bed with a man so easily fooled that he dumped her and got drunk with his own enemy. Feminism: 1. Claude: 0.

But what is this? Another wedding? Surely Hero hasn’t changed her mind that quickly?

And with that, BBC’s cool, trendy and actually very competent production comes to an end.

Local News Story Count: 16 (my favourite was the news that Swanage has appointed its new Town Crier)
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Almost Cricket. It’s a genuinely very funny version, if occasionally a little heavy handed.

Much Review About Nothing: The BBC Edition

Much Review About Nothing

This week’s version of Much Ado About Nothing is a BBC classic, released in 1984 as part of their efforts to film all of Shakespeare’s plays. It was one of the last, despite being scheduled to air in 1978 at the beginning of the mammoth Shakespeare-athon that the BBC organised. Why? Well, as it turns out, there was an entire other version shot with Penelope Keith from The Good Life, but that version was canned and a whole new Much Ado was shot with a different cast.

And what a cast! The bloke from My Family, Lance Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and that woman who was on Strictly Come Dancing once all make appearances here. And what did Kate, Kosi and I think of it? Well…it’s a much more staid affair than the Branagh – it’s actually quite hard to imagine anyone having any sort of naughty business in this version of Messina, so the idea of Hero having too much is similarly a stretch. But, without further ado (about nothing), here is Much Review About Nothing: The BBC Edition.

And after a very long and stately title sequence, we are off! Gosh, that is an enormous lion. Not live, sadly, but very square and looks distinctly Styrofoam.

How does that hat even stay on his head?

What is the point of the Messenger’s hat? It’s literally defying gravity here, hanging onto 75% of the side of his head, and it’s definitely not keeping any other part of his head warm.

I see this production also belongs to the well worn tradition of giving Hero as few lines as possible, because everyone knows that silence = chastity.

We’re five minutes in and already Cherie Lunghi as Beatrice is carrying most of this scene. Everyone else seems to have got the memo to look like you’re mentally planning a dinner party for once this day’s filming is done.

The men have entered! No horses or shouting in this version, just a casual stroll through the fakest orchard I have ever seen, against the least realistic landscape of Messina anyone has ever painted. But I suppose this was the second time round so maybe they were cutting corners on this one.

You have to admit there is a striking resemblance

Robert Lindsay as Benedict with the beard and the moustache bears a striking resemblance to Robin Hood from the first Shrek film.
He also has an incredible blusher on. Damn, Benedict. That blusher is poppin’.

Lunghi and Lindsay almost feel like they’re overacting in this moment, but I think it’s probably because they are the only two who are actually acting. Everyone else in the background has been deactivated into a sort of standby, BBC-actors-doing-Shakespeare stock pose.

I also appreciate that Lindsay is playing Benedict angrier than is the norm – it places him on an interesting line between clown and actually cruel that people often miss in the character.

This version of Claudio, played by Robert Reynolds, appears to have forgone emotion in favour of more buckles on his fancy red leather doublet. There are definitely more buckles than facial expressions in this scene from him.

Hey, they’ve left in the scene which is basically never done, where Antonio tells Leonato things we all already know. But dammit, the BBC is nothing if not faithful to the text, often at the detriment of pace, entertainment and technical aptitude.
Leonato’s costumes are all fabulous here, but this one in particular is reminiscent of a fancy dress Pope outfit.

And we’re back in the cellar again for Don John! Seriously, guys, let the poor man have some sunlight. Maybe he’s not evil, just suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The baddies have been colour coded for our convenience, so it’s nice and easy to identify accomplices. Such as Conrad, who in this version looks like a budget Alan Rickman from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Nobody has moved more than their chin for the last five minutes. I assume this is a rule for BBC Shakespeare, to emphasise how seriously they take it.

Why does everyone in Shakespeare insist on walking around in straight lines at parties?! We’ve been through this; it’s neither practical nor comfortable, it just makes you look like you’re lining up for a particularly vicious game of British Bulldog.
Also – the extra in the green dress on the back row just nearly fell over. She styled it out like some Renaissance-y dance move though so it’s OK.

We interrupt this serious period Shakespeare to bring you that bit from Insidious where they’re all in some kind of circus hell

THOSE MASKS. I’m going to have actual nightmares.

We’re 20 minutes in and Hero has just had her first line. Happy days. She said it with such enthusiasm; it’s like she knows she won’t get many more.

These dances have so much hopping in them. Is this something we’re missing out on? Should someone restart a hopping craze for the 21st Century?

Kate has quite correctly pointed out that the man in the background has an enormous drum (oo-er) but no apparent intention of playing it. There are also more Styrofoam lions dotted about the place like very regal trip hazards.

I think Benedict is drunk. Or maybe Robert Lindsay was, and couldn’t be bothered to wait til he was sobered up to film. They did this thing in a week, you know. No time to wait around for sobriety. He’s also flagrantly breaking the fourth wall here, which is a little disconcerting as it’s less House of Cards style suave, and more manic.

“You, who have stolen his bird’s nest” – and by bird’s nest, he does mean vagina. Naughty.
Also, for a big, mean and scary villain, Don John’s villainous efforts have so far added up to upsetting Claudio a little bit over a small misunderstanding at a party, which is a big deal in Jane Austen and rather less impressive here. He’s no Iago.

Does Claudio still know he’s in shot? It looks like he’s been put onto standby mode again and is staring blankly in the corner of the screen. He’s so unresponsive that Leonato basically attaches Hero to him before he gives any sign of life.

They then have a very awkward first kiss while Leonato stands way to close to them. Dude. Personal space. They’re trying to hatch their first emotion together.

We slow fade into a closeup of Don John as he realises that his first plan was neither very effective, or even particularly evil. Meanwhile, Borachio is acting pretty much exclusively through his eyebrows. If they go any lower, they might actually swallow the rest of his face up. Where is Keanu Reeves when you need him? “Too slippery to stay in shot” – Kosi.

And we’re back in the orchard for the famous tricking scenes! Maybe this is where the pace will pick up?

I have no idea what game Benedict is are supposed to be playing with oranges. The fact that they are being used as balls confirms my suspicion that everything in this orchard is fake, and probably a prop from a previous BBC Shakespeare though.
He’s also definitely undone his shirt quite some way since the first scene.

Oh, now he’s thrown, attempted to catch and dropped the orange rather anti-climatically. That was probably a mistake but heaven forbid anyone reshoots a scene here. Instead, it shall remain where it is while Benedict goes back to breaking the fourth wall. It’s like he’s the only one who knows about the Matrix.

Goodness me, that is an enormous lute. Not an innuendo.

This scene is being played like a Parents Evening Meeting, as Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio very solemnly discuss how disappointed they are in Benedict. Guys. Up the pace a little. Or maybe try a new emotion. Is there an expansion pack that only Beatrice and Benedict got loaded with?

Claudio is continually wandering in and out of shot, sort of like his programming has malfunctioned. He keeps pausing like he’s a Sim that just had an action cancelled.

Benedict is so shocked at these (very somber) revelations that he’s dropped yet another fake orange. Also, his shirt is so low now that there is a very real danger of a nip slip.

We interrupt this Elizabethan comedy to bring you Oliver Twist

Benedict appears to have caught the Parents Evening bug, as his delivery of most of his most famous monologue comes across less like excitement and romance, and more like lesson planning for a Year 8 Maths class. “The world must be peopled” is usually a hysterical line, and it sadly falls very, very flat here.

Oh dear. The BBC have been faithful to the point of leaving in all of the racism and antisemitism that is usually quietly disposed of.

We’re onto the next tricking scene and Hero has some lines! She’s determined to make the most of them too, and has dressed as a giant yellow napkin to make sure she is the centre of attention. Ursula, meanwhile, is modelling something which looks a bit more like you could buy it for an exorbitant price from Urban Outfitters.

Beatrice has been successfully tricked, and is also now breaking the fourth wall. Maybe it’s an achievement to unlock – once you’ve felt more than four emotions, you reach level two and become aware of the cameras. At level four, you realise that the entire orchard is fake and you are in fact on a cheap soundstage.

We’re in some sort of drawing room now, and it looks like it’s been filled up with all of the spare props from old history documentaries. I think Don Pedro has a game going where he tries to touch each one before the scene is over, as he’s worked his way through two silver goblets and a decorative globe within two lines.
Claudio has come dressed as the sort of gift bag that you put wine in.

This scene contains a much smaller lute than before. Still not an innuendo.
I’m also not sure Benedict has seen one before as he’s holding it by the neck and swinging it ineffectually.

Don John has literally popped out of thin air, and Don Pedro is so surprised by this that he dribbles into his beard. This is some high brow film making here.

This scene is actually played in a really interesting way as Claudio is far angrier with Don John than with Hero. Which makes an awful lot of sense given that it’s not only upsetting to Claudio, it’s also pretty offensive to the woman he loves to suggest that she is immoral. It still suffers from being played incredibly slowly, though.
Claudio throwing water over Don John is a neat bit of direction, but would have been more effective if it looked like it was done out of anger, rather than just because he had a programming malfunction and lost control of his arm.

We interrupt this sunny Italian setting to bring you the long lost music video for We Three Kings of Orient Are

Clive Dunn’s beard is no less majestic for being visibly fake.

Borachio and Conrad have arrived to drunkenly spill some secrets. Except that I’ve never seen two supposedly drunk people look more sober. Perhaps all of these scenes have gone on so long that they were drunk to begin with, but have since had time to sober up.

There’s not been an ornamental lion for a few scenes and I’m starting to miss them. A relic of happier scenes.

It’s time for the wedding and everyone has their shiniest clothing on. Claudio has gone to the effort of stapling a large ornamental tablecloth to his back, which is surprising given that he knows this wedding is a no-go.

Claudio is now casually renouncing Hero for maybe having sex with the man with the powerful eyebrows. Everyone is quite sedate about this. The extras are very calmly filing out of the church, probably to take advantage of the free banquet before it all gets put away.

Kudos to the director – they have at least left Hero’s lines in this scene rather than have her faint more or less on the spot, which is cool. And she is making the most of them to display a full three emotions, two and a half more than Claudio.

Oh no, I tell a lie – Claudio just had a big shout! A whole feeling, just to himself! Admittedly it lasts for two seconds, then he returns to standby and stares blankly into space again.

There is so little movement in this entire film that Hero fainting in the middle of the church actually feels like a jump scare.

Meanwhile, Benedict is hovering in the corner of the scene like a morally upright, wisecracking Quality Street chocolate in his shiny red and gold wedding get up.

The chapel scene in this version is darker than in others, perhaps because they’ve been a bit more bitter and less light hearted about their relationship in previous scenes. It’s less sweet and more tense but actually works well with that, and the lack of a kiss where it is traditionally placed is a sensible omission since it keeps this tension up. It’s a shame that the rest of the film can’t sustain the darker mood.

We’re back to the prison and the Sexton is not even pretending to write anything down; he’s just wiggling his prop quill over his prop parchment with no intention of making contact. Budget Alan Rickman looks utterly fed up and Clive Dunn’s beard has somehow gotten even less convincing.

The giant lion is back! I am pleased.

Pretty much all of the characters are wearing black now, and although there may be a more practical reason like mourning colours or whatever, I prefer the idea that Don John has unintentionally started a new craze for Scandinavian chic, 500 years before the rest of us caught on.

Well, that escalated quickly. What is usually played as a small spat between Antonio and Claudio has turned into Antonio chasing him around the giant lion with a visibly plastic sword. Where was this passion for the rest of the play? Maybe we just need more Antonio in our lives.

The watch have arrived to resolve the whole conundrum, and Verges appears to have become aware of the audience as well! Unless Clive Dunn just forgot he wasn’t supposed to be looking at the camera.

We interrupt this family friendly production to bring you Final Destination 7: Shakespeare’s Revenge

How did they manage to smuggle a brass band into the funeral? It’s like a really macabre version of the opening scene in Love Actually.

We’re into the final scene and everyone is wearing colours again! Perhaps most conspicuously, Don Pedro is dressed like a really fabulous set of road markings, accompanied by a bedazzled man bun.

I suppose it would be too much to hope for a few more emotions this late in the game, and true to form, Claudio’s reaction to the love of his life being mysteriously resurrected is one of mild confusion and apathy.
But never mind that because, in true Elizabethan style, this adaptation ends with couples alternately hopping erratically and making out.

Scenes with Conspicuous Styrofoam Lions: A staggering 23 scenes
Not Cricket Rating: It’s not really cricket. There are redeeming features but it’s just a bit too slow and staid to be considered entertaining.

Much Review About Nothing: The Branagh Edition

Much Review About Nothing

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.

Much Ado

We interrupt this acclaimed Shakespeare to bring you The Magnificent Seven

Keanu, why are you victory punching? You lost, dude. That’s the set up of the entire film.

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.

He’s just so shiny

“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.

Trippy editing like this may never win you an Oscar but it will earn you points for enthusiasm

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.

That’s a nice wedding set piece. It would be a shame if someone was to… rip it all up and flip it over…

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: “You have a squishy face”

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.

Claudio: “Wow, I really do have a squishy face”

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!

This is really just an in-depth examination of male sexual awakening in 1600s Italy

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.