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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
KISS! KISS! KISS!
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.
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.
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?
IT’S ANOTHER BAIT AND SWITCH AND BENEDICT IS GETTING MARRIED TO BEATRICE
YOU GOT ME THERE, BBC
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.