(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.)

much-ado-about-nothing-movie-poster-1993“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever.
One foot on sea, and one on shore,
to one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so
But let them go
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all
Your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.”

Ah, William Shakespeare. The Bard. The muse of many. Stratford-Upon-Avon’s golden boy. The man who put humanity to prose and through his many poems, songs and plays revealed the nature of –

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I had a feeling this would happen.

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Now that I have your attention, let me say that I get what many of you are feeling right now. Chances are you were forced to read Shakespeare in your high school English class and you most likely found it the most dull indecipherable piece of literature to be praised as art since…well, take your pick of the other classics you probably had to read. Sadly, that’s the trap most English teachers fall into. Shakespeare wrote poetry, which is prime for studying and easy enough for most folks to understand, but he’s primarily famous for his plays, and plays aren’t supposed to be read like any other book – they’re supposed to be seen. Even I in my obsessive bookworminess had difficulty understanding what was really happening while reading Hamlet and Macbeth unless I read the side notes or my teacher put on film versions of the plays that we were reviewing.

I had a general grasp of how important the works of Shakespeare were and even had some interest in learning more about them unlike my bored classmates, but I was never quite able to appreciate the works of Will ’til long after I left the classroom setting. Much of that is primarily thanks to the videos of Kyle Kallgren and Overly Sarcastic Productions. Both reviewers have very distinctive styles – one an in-depth analysis that balances familiarity with the subject with pop culture playfulness, the other a speedy anime-drawn recap marked by a few snarky asides and often a gentle acoustic cover of a song related to the subject played over the end credits – but they both made me realize the reason why Shakespeare has persisted for over 400 years and is taught ad nauseum: his stories are universal. Be it love, war, vengeance, betrayal, magic, history, religion, family, legacy, the transition from youth to adulthood, gender and societal roles, or the very nature of being, the Bard has covered most every genre and theme known to man, and created some of the most popular stories and characters that have been revisited countless times by an infinite parade of directors, actors, cultures, and storytellers. One particular auteur was singled out by Kyle for revitalizing Shakespeare for the silver screen in the much latter half of the 20th century.

Disney's "Cinderella" World Premiere - Arrivals

Kenneth Branaugh, the finest slice of Northern Irish ham you’ll ever see on stage or screen, and one of the most highly regarded Shakespearean thespians of our time, having both directed and starred in lavish film versions of Henry the Fifth, Hamlet, Love’s Labors Lost, As You Like It, a filmed stage adaptation of The Winter’s Tale and the movie I’ll be reviewing today, Much Ado About Nothing – or as I like to call it, the blueprint for every future rom-com ever made. There’s fanciful innuendos, a main couple and a smaller less important couple that we both want to see hook up, a black best friend providing both sage advice and comic relief, misunderstandings that could easily be cleared up in a matter of seconds if they stopped to think about it, and much of it hinges around a “will they-won’t they” plot that you could probably guess ends with “they will”. Branaugh can be beautifully subtle in both acting and style, but boy can he bring on the bombast whether we want it or not. In this case his over-the-top hamminess and obvious love for the material makes this outing a fun ride.

If you’re concerned that this review is going to be too highbrow compared to my usual work, there’s no need to worry. In some ways I’m on the same level as you guys. I confess that I’ve never seen any of Shakespeare’s plays performed live, I’m not very familiar with some of the language and phrasing outside of what little I remember from high school and some Youtube videos explaining select passages, and sadly my Cine-Kyle is still in the mail, but that’s never stopped me from enjoying many of the Bard’s works as seen on film (nor has it stopped me from trying to sound smarter than I really am). Once you understand the actions behind the flowery language, though, it’s pretty simple to take it from there. Never fear, I will be acting as your translator in my own unique way throughout this review.

The film opens on the above song/sonnet being read by the radiant Emma Thompson. Miss Thompson plays Beatrice, a spirited noblewoman living on an estate in the beautiful Tuscan countryside with her family, made up of her uncle Leonato (Richard Briers), his daughter and her cousin Hero (Kate Beckinsale), and Leonato’s brother Antonio played by Brian…oh excuse me, I need the proper voice for this.

Played by –

BRIAN BLESSED!!

Thank you.

While everyone is enjoying a picnic on this lovely summer day, a messenger of the Prince, Don Pedro, rides up with a letter for Leonato. On reading it Leonato announces that Pedro and his entourage are riding their way up to them at this very moment and they plan on dropping by to say hello. Everyone rushes to the villa to prepare for their arrival as Pedro’s posse fist pump the opening credits into existence.

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The women fluster about while the soldiers pull up to the house and from there…they wash themselves down. Not together, mind you; it cuts back and forth between the giggling ladies pawing and scrubbing themselves and the men stripping down to their birthday suits, jumping in the fountain, playfully splashing each other, and, well…that’s one way to get your audience invested in the first few minutes. It sure got me hooked.

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The face I’ll usually have on during this opening.

Leonato welcomes Pedro (played by the ever-charming Denzel Washington) and his goodfellas into his home. Pedro declares that they will be staying for a month.

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“A month? I thought you’d be here just for the night, a few days at most -“

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“You know, the penalty for refusing to accommodate royalty is death.”

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“Welcome home, Your Highness!”

With hellos out of the way, it’s made clear that one of Pedro’s boys, Claudio (Sean Patrick Leonard) has his eyes on Hero, and the feeling is mutual. It’s also here that we get our first taste of the “merry war” that springs up between Beatrice and Claudio’s friend Benedick (Kenneth Branaugh) whenever they are in the same room together.

And now, Benedick and Beatrice’s opening argument, translated by Mabel Pines for those of you who have no idea what anyone is actually saying.

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“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.”

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“Are you still yapping, you windbag? Blah blah blah, no one’s listening to a word you’re saying.”

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“What, my dear lady disdained? Are you yet living?”

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“Whoa, Beatrice, what’s grinding your gears? And how the heck are you still alive, anyway? You’re, like, ancient.”

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“Is it possible disdain should die while meat food to feed it as Signor Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert disdain if you come in her presence.”

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“Benny, I’m feeding off your hate and I’m loving every bite, MMM!”

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“This is courtesy a turncoat. But is certain that I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted, and I would that I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.”

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“Forget you, I am a total chick magnet! I’m just having too much fun being single right now.”

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“A dear happiness to women. They would else been troubled with a pernicious suitor.”

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“Dude, no lady would want even if you WERE single. BOOM!”

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“I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than hear a man swear he loves me.”

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“What she said.”

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“Well, you are a rare parrot teacher!”

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“She teaches birds to talk?”

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“A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours!”

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“My talking birds are way cooler than your dumb ugly beast, you butthead!”

Oh, and it gets even funnier when you realize it’s Gilderoy Lockhart and Professor Trelawney sniping at each other. That’s a whole lot of Harry Potter fanfic fuel in a nutshell!

And then…Keanu Reeves enters the picture as Don John.

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“I left my red and blue pills at home. Oh, the whoah.”

Oh Keanu. Every critic has lambasted his performance to kingdom come – and for good reason. The poor guy’s acting skills are outclassed by the freaking furniture. That face he has in this one picture barely changes throughout the movie. What Branaugh saw in him is anybody’s guess.

But let’s take a closer look at what he’s given to work with:

Of all the incredible villains Shakespeare has created – Richard the Third, King Claudius, and Iago, just to name a few – Don John is the LEAST interesting. He’s Don Pedro’s brother who’s envious of his power, influence and number of friends, and apparently he started a coup sometime before the play’s start, though he was defeated shortly after and also pardoned because Pedro really is that nice a guy. What’s Don John’s ultimate scheme for revenge? Ruin the romance of that one guy who’s friends with his brother. Why? No reason. He does not benefit from it in any way. He wants to cause trouble for others and be evil simply for the sake of it. John himself says “I am a plain-dealing villain” who “would rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his [Pedro’s] grace”. He prefers spending time away from everyone else at the villa, enough that they joke about how moody and self-isolating he is; and whenever he’s asked to share a scene with any of the main cast, he appears uncomfortable – but I think some of that is intentional. In a way, it’s perfect that someone who doesn’t give a shit about what’s happening around him is played by someone who gives a half-hearted – dare I say wooden – performance compared to the rest of the livelier actors. He’s not even in the film all that much, which I’m sure comes as a relief to anyone fearing that his presence detracts from the overall quality of the feature. Plus, at certain moments you can tell that he’s actually trying to keep up with the material, which is more than I can say for certain actors of his level who’ve worked half as long and enjoyed twice as much success.

So, can Keanu Reeves do Shakespeare? Not really. Could they have gotten someone else who would have played John with more pathos and nuance? Definitely. But even though I find him more in his element when he’s shooting up Russian thugs or time-traveling with Alex Winter, Keanu’s not as terrible in this adaptation of renowned English literature as most people claim. So I give him a pass.

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Though next time I won’t be so nice.

I should also point out the, ah, unusual decision to cast Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as siblings. To be fair, they’re half-brothers, even though the period this movie takes place in would ensure that no man of African origin would ever hold such a position of high esteem (and that’s putting it nicely). It doesn’t matter to me one bit however; Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors in Hollywood, and Branaugh was ahead of his time in casting at least one person of color in roles normally saved for white people because they’re, you know, GOOD ACTORS. Ethnicity shouldn’t matter one jot when it comes to that, but a tirade about why is this is still a thing is one I’ll save for another time.

Claudio pulls Benedick aside and confesses his instantaneous attraction for Hero, which Benedick is infuriated by – not that his best friend has fallen in love in two seconds, but the mere fact that he’s in love. All right, the movie implies that Hero and Claudio have met beforehand and have been attracted to each other since but never acted upon it, but you get the idea. These two aren’t exactly the most interesting couple in the world; if you compared them to, say, a Disney romance, they’d fit right in with Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty – an idealized notion of love based on first sight but sadly not much else. Benedick, who wants nothing to do with falling in love and women (which certainly adds another erotic layer to that opening bathing scene) balks at the idea of marriage.

Pedro is informed of Claudio’s adolescent crushing by Benedick, but the prince is more optimistic about his chances with Hero. He even comes up with a plan to help make a match between the two – he’ll disguise himself as Claudio, take her out on a date, ask her father’s permission to marry and then hand her over to his friend. It’s…a weird plan, the kind of pervy thing that normally happens nowadays on dating sites where a guy makes a fake profile just to hit on unsuspecting women, but Pedro happens to be sipping from a goblet of what I assume is wine throughout the scene so it’s safe to assume he’s slightly buzzed while cooking up this brilliant scheme.

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“So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna pretend to be you and your bae will want my D, but she really wants YOUR D, and then her dad says “Ok, marry my daughter ‘cuz you’re the Prince”, but I’m not really the Prince, I’m you, and then,*hic*, wedding!”

A masked ball is held that night to honor the Prince’s arrival (let’s pray he doesn’t get drunker than he already may be). While choosing masks, Beatrice’s family question why hasn’t she settled down with a nice guy yet, much like how earlier Pedro tried to assure Benedick he’d change his mind on love when he finds the right person. Beatrice’s reply reveals exactly why she is one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters. In a time where women had to marry ASAP for security and upward mobility – usually both – and often without the luxury of love, Beatrice proudly declares that she’s only going to marry the right kind of man for her, one who won’t try to put her in a “woman’s” place and loves her for her sharp mind and feisty, outspoken attitude (Shame there’s never been a Shakespeare extended universe or she could have gotten along great with Viola from Twelfth Night and Kate from Taming of the Shrew).

She’s not all headstrong bravado, however; a vulnerable heart beats under that thick layer of strength, and much of that comes from Emma Thompson’s performance. Though Branaugh may take credit as the lead and director, make no mistake, this is truly Emma’s movie. Her dry biting wit, her warmth, sardonic sense of humor, her passion? That all stems from her. It’s nigh impossible to separate her glowing personality from the character.

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Also if there’s a bee flying in her face while she’s reading poetry, she’ll continue without giving a single FUCK. This woman’s got ovaries of steel!

With her speech done, the family joins the revelers in their dance.

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Masquerade! Paper faces on parade! Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you!

The ball is an orgy of paper-mache veiled desires. Antonio flirts with Hero’s maid Ursula, Hero’s other maid Margaret and John’s henchman Borachio flirt with each other, and Benedick disguised as a clown gets into a conversation about himself with Beatrice. Beatrice refers to Benedick as the prince’s jester and the biggest joke of his entire army. You can interpret it either as Beatrice running her mouth off to someone she thinks is a total stranger, or she’s well aware of whom she’s talking to and is merely trying to rile him up. Either way, Benedick is mightily peeved.

Claudio, meanwhile, is watching Pedro woo Hero from afar when Don John swoops in with some unfortunate news – Pedro was lying all along about courting Hero for his friend and is planning to keep her for himself. A betrayed Claudio sulks off, ignorant of Don John’s smirking.

Benedick complains to Pedro about the slanderous words of Beatrice but is further humiliated when he finds Pedro not only knows but thinks them hilarious. Beatrice puts in another appearance and Benedick chooses to storm out than spend another minute with her. With him gone, Beatrice makes an unusual comment to Pedro about her and Benedick “trading hearts for a while”. This line, coupled with some of Emma Thompson’s ingenious subtle flourishes, all hint towards a greater shared past with Benedick than is outwardly stated; perhaps at one point they were romantically involved or on the verge of becoming a couple, but something went wrong and their feelings are unresolved. It’s interesting to note that Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson were married at the time this was made, which makes their interactions, romantic or otherwise, feel all the more genuine. Sadly the divorced soon after, but at least their crackling chemistry is captured for one perfect moment on film.

Beatrice fetches Claudio who’s neither sick nor sad but civilly jealous. Don Pedro assures his buddy that he’s done his job, and after talking it over with her father sweet Hero is now his to be married. So, in the words of Overly Sarcastic Productions, Prince Trustworthy turned out to be trustworthy all along and Prince Untrustworthy really was untrustworthy. (Seriously, go check those guys out once you’re done with this).

As the happy couple share their first kiss, Beatrice sarcastically remarks that she is still without a husband. Don Pedro promises to find her one…then he asks if she would ever consider marrying him.

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Beatrice turns him down saying she’s not good enough for a prince and DAMN, she must really subconsciously have her heart set on Benedick if she’s turning down Denzel Freaking Washington. I don’t think there’s a straight woman out there who could refuse him.This exchange isn’t as random as you might think; ever since meeting her, Pedro has appeared to be charmed by all of Beatrice’s previously listed graces, and not once has he tried to silence or contradict her. When he brings up the idea of marriage, he does it privately, tenderly, as if he’s opening himself up to her. Of course Beatrice declines and he’s nice enough that he never mentions it again, but note that in the final scene when everyone is paired up and they go off singing and dancing hey nonny nonny, he’s the only one who doesn’t. It’s highly possible that he loves Beatrice, but unselfishly lets that love go unrequited and sees that she’s happy with someone else rather than force her into an engagement with someone she doesn’t want. This makes some sense when we see what he plans next:

With the wedding set to happen in three days, our happy couple and their friends have plenty of time on their hands and not much else to do. Pedro suggests they conspire to get Benedick and Beatrice to finally put aside their bickering and hook up already.

The next day Benedick wanders the gardens bitching and moaning about how everyone around him is obsessed with love and acting like fools. He asserts that there’s no woman who can change his mind on marriage, unless there’s one who’s absolutely perfect in every way.

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“Sorry to disappoint you Signor, but I’m taken.”

Benedick goes into hiding when he spies Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato approach. What he doesn’t know is that they’re already aware he’s nearby. As part of their plan they have the family musician Balthasar (the film’s composer Patrick Doyle in a very appropriate cameo) play some lovely romantic music over a beautiful long take around the garden to set the mood.

With the song done, Pedro loudly asks Leonato to repeat something he said earlier about Beatrice being in love with Benedick, which quickly catches Benedick’s attention. He overhears them proclaim how torn Beatrice is about revealing her feelings for Benedick, how she would die if she stays silent but die if he were to reproach her affections in his usual manner. Leonato goes into detail of Beatrice’s excessive pining while Benedick poorly attempts to hide himself from their prying eyes. They exit when they’re sure Benedick’s fallen for it hook, line and sinker, but to mess with him further, Pedro suggests they send Beatrice to let him know dinner’s ready.

Once they’re out of earshot, an incredulous Benedick realizes that marriage suddenly doesn’t sound so bad if it were to someone like, say, Beatrice. He wonders aloud what it is that she sees in him, but declares that if her feelings are true, then he too shall be “horribly in love with her!” When Beatrice storms into the garden to call him inside, Benedick tries to play it cool, though he reads into every barbed comment and sees subtle declarations of love where there are none.

Afterwards Hero and Ursula pull the same trick on Beatrice and the results are equally successful. Beatrice too is now fully enamored with Benedick. A montage of their shared joy – her playing on a swing while he dances in a fountain like Gene Kelly – is an overwhelmingly boisterous but blissful portrayal of the feeling of falling in love. It’s moments like these that prove what most people (myself included) feel about Benedick and Beatrice’s romance; that it’s not only better (again, if I make Disney comparisons, they’re the 90’s-’10’s couples) but arguably the story revolves more around them than Hero and Claudio.

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“So…when’s it gonna get funny?”

Beg pardon?

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“You said this was a comedy but I ain’t laughing yet. Where are the chuckles?”

Well, the downside of doing a written review/recap of Shakespeare is that it’s kind of like being stuck in English class again, being made to read something that’s better when experienced for yourself. I can’t very well show video clips of the entire movie throughout due to copyright and all that crap, but take my word for it, the performances sell the humor in these scenes.

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“You’re losing me.”

Okay, okay…how does Michael Keaton playing the clownish constable Dogberry sound?

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“…Birdman Keaton or Beetlejuice Keaton?”

Beetlejuice Keaton.

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“Go on…”

Shakespeare’s written a number of fun characters who play the fool, and few are more fun and foolish than Constable Dogberry. Having a scene-stealing character actor like Keaton in the role is nothing short of perfect casting. Hell, you know you’re in for some fun when he makes his entrance into the movie in the same manner as the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (too bad there weren’t any coconut-carrying swallows migrating close by to complete the homage). With him is Ben Elton playing his wiser but long-suffering sidekick, the Kif to his Zapp Brannigan if you will. Dogberry is in command of the prince’s Night Watch guards but can barely keep his men and his overeager attitude in line. He has a penchant for using big words to sound smart though he doesn’t quite grasp their proper context. He’s exceedingly pedantic when it comes to the minutiae of the law as he sees himself as its ultimate keeper, despite the fact that he’s nothing more than a glorified security guard. You have to wonder how this clown was given such a powerful position by the Prince himself. Eh, I’m sure his qualifications were enough to bypass any doubts.

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“I’ve attended Juliard, I have a graduate from Harvard, I travel quite extensively, I lived through the Black Plague and had a pretty good time, and I’m seen Titus Andronicus a hundred and sixty-seven times AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT!!!”

Meanwhile Don John broods some more over the impending wedding until Borachio suggests another plan to spoil the lovers’ happiness. Having gained the affection of Margaret, Borachio conspires to use her as an unwitting pawn in their next scheme.

That evening Don John pulls both Claudio and Pedro aside and informs them that Hero is being unfaithful. He leads them beneath her window where they spy a couple making love on the balcony and overhear Hero’s name being shouted passionately. Claudio and Pedro are convinced that Hero is a two-timing whore, though unbeknownst to them it’s really Borachio getting it on with Margaret. Don John advises them not to say anything until the wedding so the world will know of “Hero’s” shame.

Borachio gets drunk with his friend Conrad after the deed is done and he loudly boasts about his role in ruining the forthcoming nuptials. Too bad for him the Night’s Watch overheard everything and they promptly arrest the two troublemakers. The following morning Dogberry tries to inform Leonato of what occurred; Unfortunately between last-minute wedding preparations and Dogberry’s malapropisms Leonato quickly loses his patience and sends him away, though he gives him permission to interrogate the prisoners.

The wedding commences, and all goes well until the “speak now or forever hold your peace” part. Claudio gets shockingly violent with Hero and loudly proclaims in front of the entire assembly that she is a lying harlot. Not content with hurling his fiance to the ground, he also knocks around some candelabras, pushes overs a few pews and generally wrecks everything short of diving headfirst into the wedding cake. Hero is horrified by his behavior and tries in vain to defend herself, but it’s his word and the princes’ against hers. There’s an undercurrent to this scene – well, more like overcurrent – that, in addition to the loud violence, makes it uncomfortable by today’s standards. It isn’t only the fact that Hero apparently cheated on her fiancée, but that she’s no longer an unspoiled virgin. Remember how I said women had to marry rich and fast in order to get by at the time this was written? Well, they also had to have their hymen in tact, because a woman who had already been had was impossible to marry. Having a sexually unrepressed reputation would ruin you for life if you were a woman trying to find a good husband, but not vice-versa….actually I think this play might be more relevant than I thought. Claudio makes special note of this fact, likening Hero to “those pampered animals that rage in savage sensuality” and the lusty unfaithful goddess Venus when he once believed her to be the virginal goddess Diana. This unwarranted attack causes Hero to faint and everyone departs except for Hero, her family, Benedick and the Friar. You’d think Hero would get some sympathy from her family, and she would if they weren’t so busy shielding her from her father first. He’s as furious with her supposed depravity as Claudio, so much in fact that he tries to strangle her! Even –

BRIAN BLESSED!!

– is having a hard time holding him back. Benedick is the one of the few men there willing to give Hero the benefit of the doubt, even (rightfully) suspecting Don John had a hand in this. The Friar also believes Hero is innocent and devises a cunning foolproof plan to save her reputation – have her fake her death until the whole thing blows over.

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“I suggested the same thing to this girl named Juliet when her parents wouldn’t let her marry her Romeo. I haven’t heard from either one since so it must have worked out!”

Hero’s family leads the poor girl away, but Beatrice stays behind for a private cry in the chapel. Benedick attempts to comfort her and they find each other confessing their love in two of my favorite Shakespeare quotes from any of his works.

Benedick: I love nothing in the world so well as you […] Is not that strange?

Beatrice: I love you with so much of my heart that there is none left to protest.

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Benedick tells Beatrice to give him a task to prove his love, but she asks him to do the one thing he cannot – kill Claudio as revenge for slandering Hero. He refuses and Beatrice gives a passionate speech about how powerless she is to do anything about her family’s betrayal because she is a woman and how she doubts Benedick’s oath is more than a thing of words because he won’t stand up for her. Reluctantly, Benedick agrees to challenge Claudio to a duel and leaves her by her lonesome.

Meanwhile Borachio and Conrad are being questioned by Dogberry, the Night’s Watch and a Sexton who’s increasingly irritated with the constable’s methods. Their guilt and association with Don John is proven in spite of Dogberry’s best efforts. The Sexton delivers the news that Don John has run off in the middle of the night and Hero has apparently dropped dead on being accused of infidelity, making Borachio culpable of murder. He orders them to be brought before Leonato. Conrad insults Dogberry, though Dogberry is more upset that the Sexton has already left and isn’t there to add said insult to the record – until Conrad calls him an ass.

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Dogberry promptly proceeds to hand Conrad’s butt to him on a platter Three Stooges-style and lays down an important reminder to those present:

But masters, remember, that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, forget not that I. Am. An ASS.

Leonardo and Antonio approach Claudio and Pedro (and I just realized how many damn characters in this movie have names ending in -o) and they inform them that Hero has died after they shamed her at the altar, but Claudio and Pedro are like “Yeah but she was a slut anyway, whatcha gonna do.” And then Antonio RIPS into them for being so callous. Up to this point –

BRIAN BLESSED!!

– has mostly been relegated to the background, an impressive feat considering how famous he is for his bombastic performances. Only now does he finally let loose in a way that never fails to make me say “Yeah, get him Brian! Kick his ass!” Then Benedick arrives on the scene and gives Claudio a new meaning to the term facepalm.

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Benedick offers his ultimatum, either fight with him over the late Hero’s honor or be branded as a coward. Dogberry traipses on to the scene with Conrad and Borachio in tow and forces them to confess that they have committed false reports, spoken untruths, are slanderers, belied Hero, verified unjust things, and are lying knaves, in that order. One heartwarming touch is that Borachio goes out of his way to protect Margaret by urging Leonato that she had no idea what she was truly a part of. It’s plain to see that he regrets using her as he did, though the only kind thing he has the power to do is to ensure she’s spared the sentence he’ll receive. Am I alone in thinking THIS is a better love story Hero and Claudio’s too?

Dogberry departs after several hints from Leonato that he’s no longer needed, but of course not before reminding the company the most important thing to come from all this – that he is indeed an ass. A remorseful Claudio falls to his knees and asks Leonato to punish him any way he sees fit for doubting Hero and causing her death. And Leonato doles out the worst sentence he can think of – make him say a nice eulogy at Hero’s funeral and then marry one of her cousins in her place.

Umm…for great justice?

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The next morning finds Benedick attempting to write a love poem for Beatrice and failing miserably. He laments that the only rhyme he can find for “lady” is “baby”, which he doesn’t find very romantic. Just wait a few hundred years Benedick; every love song ever written will use that rhyming scheme. Beatrice appears and Benedick informs her that he challenged Claudio and is waiting for his answer unless things fare better at the wedding the next go-around. Both talk about what made them fall for each other until Ursula interrupts proclaiming that Hero’s name has been cleared and Don John’s treachery exposed. They whisk themselves back to the chapel for Claudio’s Wedding, Round 2. On the way Benedick privately asks the Friar and Leonato about the possibility of marrying Beatrice, which they both wholeheartedly agree to.

At the altar Claudio is brought before four veiled women – Hero, Beatrice, Ursula and Margaret – one of which is the “cousin” meant to be his new wife (guess who?) Leonato has Claudio vow to be true to his bride before he can lift her very thin easy to see through veil and learn her identity. He does…but I’m still not completely sold on the idea that he’s learned his lesson. I think you can already guess what my stance on Claudio is as a character; he’s fairly gullible, jumps into things before thinking them through, and is kind of a bigot. Hell, the original play has Claudio make a pretty racist comment (one thankfully often excised from most modern productions) where on being asked if he’d marry this newcomer without question, he replies that he’d “hold my mind were she an Ethiope”. Come on, would YOU take back a guy who says that kind of shit on top of slut shaming you at your wedding and nearly inciting your father into committing an honor killing? If I were the one writing this, I’d have Hero read him the riot act and make him promise he’d think before pulling this kind of stupid selfish stunt again, except, you know, in a Shakespearean way, something like –

My dear husband, before you take my hand,
Let my words soften thy heart and take heed,
May these events lead you to understand
The harsh consequences of your rash deed,
Of your thoughts and faithlessness in your wife
And how your prejudices destroyed her,
Pray make not that error twice in your life
And damn thyself to a life all alone, sir
.
Let this step be the first in all your days
To trust your wife to be first in your thoughts,
To think before you speak of errant ways
For hearts can be returned once stole or bought.
Keep in your counsel her true sacred words,
Have her trust locked in the vault of thy heart;
For as He holds you like he holds all the World,
I shall not bear thee alone to part.

Or something around those lines. You get the idea.

Claudio takes his wife as his own and discovers it was Hero all along, much to the shock and relief of the congregation and himself. With all said and done, Beatrice and Benedick go public with their affections, but once again they deny their feelings are genuine when they learn how everyone was involved in getting them together. Then Claudio and Hero whip out the sappy love letters Benedick and Beatrice were writing in secret and share them with the other, which leads to, as Benedick calls it, “A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts.” They silence all defiance against each other with a kiss and the two are also wed.

A captured Don John is brought before the assembly, but Benedick urges Pedro to wait until tomorrow for punishment so as to not spoil this perfect day. Also, it’s Benedick’s turn to impart some ironic advice to the still-single and slightly glum Prince – “Get thee a wife!” The company celebrates the marriages with a beautiful long final shot across the villa full of laughter and dance and a reprise of “Sigh No More” which, I am not exaggerating, I want played at my wedding.

 

Much Ado About Nothing isn’t one of Shakespeare’s most quotable, thought-provoking, or popular works, but this adaptation is a thoroughly enjoyable romp from start to finish. There’s nothing wrong with some light and breezy romance now and then, though there are moments of gravitas that lend some depth to what might otherwise be a romantic comedy spoken through flowery prose. The cinematography and music are gorgeous, 99.99% of the acting is spot-on, I’d say this makes for a good introduction to the play, if not a spectacular intro for anyone wishing to get into The Bard. Well, that or the stage version with David Tennant and Catherine Tate if anything to simply to compare the two. Both are different in their acting and approach to the material, but they’re a lot of fun. I showed this to my grandmother who’s going on 90 at the time this review is being written and she not only understood it but enjoyed it. Not saying you have to be old to get the material, just saying once again that Shakespeare transcends all barriers. It’s no surprise that his stories are told and retold time after time. Much Ado About Nothing appeals to the romantic in me and I’m sure it does and will continue to for all the fools who dream of romance. Hey nonny nonny.


Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at upontheshelfshow@gmail.com. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.

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