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.