Review of Kenneth Branaugh’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

On this page, I review a Shakespeare book, movie, or TV show that I feel has some kind of value, either as an interpretation of Shakespeare, or a means to learn more about the man and his writing. This post is the first of three reviews of Shakespearean movies where directors tackle Much Ado About Nothing.

  1. DVD cover of Kenneth Branaugh's
    DVD cover of Kenneth Branaugh’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    Name:Much Ado About Nothing

  2. Year: 1993
  3. Director: Kenneth Branaugh
  4. Ages:PG for brief nudity, probably best for high school/ college students
  5. Media:Full length movie, (also available on DVD and Amazon Streaming)
  6. Recommendation: I’d recommend this to high schoolers, college students, any anyone who just wants to have a great time watching a good old fashioned romantic comedy.
  7. Premise: Branaugh wanted to make this film a visual feast- to make the Messina of Much Ado like everyone’s fantasy Italian vacation- a warm, fun, sexy, and inviting place to be. To that end, he gives us a world with curly hedges, dazzling sunlight, handsome soldiers, and curvaceous women in light, breathable gowns. From the beginning of the film we see romantic and exciting action when the lords of Padua and Aragon ride up on their horses to Seignior Leonato’s house. Immediately everyone strips and bathes themselves in a fountain, washing away the grime of the recent war, getting ready for more pleasant pastimes. The cinematic storytelling is incredible and masterful.

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  1. Moments to watch for:
    1. The aforementioned bathing scene- it’s full of explosive energy and relief that makes you compelled to like these characters.
    2. The Gulling scenes- These are the famous scenes where Benedick hears from his friends that Beatrice confessed to love him, and Beatrice hears the same thing reported about Benedick. In Branaugh’s version, the scene ends with a delightful montage of Benedick stomping playfully through a fountain, dousing himself with water, and laughing with new-found joy. Beatrice on the other hand, floats through the air on a long swing, looking happy, and simultaneously regal and childlike.
    3. Act IV, Scene 1, otherwise known as The Church Scene, otherwise otherwise known as the “Kill Claudio” Scene. When I enacted this scene in graduate school, this was the standard I set for myself. Remember, these actors were really married at the time of this film, and the real love and honesty they shared comes through so beautifully. When Branaugh says “I do love nothing in the world so well as you,” you believe him. Likewise, Beatrice’s rage at Benedick for siding with the Prince against Hero seems like the worst kind of domestic quarrel. She throws over pulpits, shrieks, curses, and falls at last, her fury spent and her spirit deflated because she knows it will do no good. It would make any man vow to do anything to make her happy again. It’s a masterful scene between two of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our time.
  1. My reaction: 

Kenneth Branaugh, (who has recently retired from Shakespeare and directed such modern hits as Cinderella and Thor), created a true classic with Much Ado About Nothing, one that I hope will stand the test of time. It’s clever, it’s beautifully shot, and the performances are the stuff of legend. Critics often criticize Branaugh as an egomaniac, but in Much Ado, he shares the spotlight equally with everyone in the cast, rather than making the movie a vehicle for himself. The only shortcoming of the film is the unfortunate casting of Keanu Reeves as Don John; he doesn’t know how to speak Shakespeare, he doesn’t know how to play a villain, and his performance is wooden and forced. Still, even this unfortunate casting doesn’t significantly detract from the masterful blend of beautiful direction, excellent score, and Oscar-worthy acting from nearly the entire cast.

  1. Notable cast members
    1. Emma Thompson as Beatrice- Branaugh’s then-wife is a veteran Shakespearean actress who portrays a beautiful and supremely witty Beatrice. One of my favorite moments of her is the scene where she talks to Benedick while he’s in disguise at the masked ball. She looks at him with mischief dancing in her eyes, clearly aware of who he is, and taking every opportunity to insult and tantalize him. She takes a bite of an apple like Eve, showing off how she’s gotten the best of him yet again, and he’s failed to taste her forbidden fruit. It’s hard not to fall in love with a woman like that!
    2. Kenneth Branaugh as Benedick– Branaugh is not only a great director, he really knows how to deliver Shakespeare. He is charming, silly, bragging, and smart as Benedick, while still not afraid to look silly when the script calls for it. Just watch this hilarious clip where he vows in soliloquy, to become “horribly in love” with Beatrice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbF7LVDKEqk Branaugh has appeared onscreen as Hamlet, Iago, Henry the Fifth, and Berowne in Love’s Labors Lost, but I think this might have been his finest performance. Nobody else on screen has even come close to encapsulating both Benedick’s mature romantic love, and his silly childishness. I dare you to watch him and not smile.
    3. Denzel Washington as Don Pedro- This casting choice more than makes up for Branaugh’s casting of Keanu Reeves. Denzel is charming, he’s in command, and clearly cares for everyone’s happiness. He’s an all-around man’s man and nice guy. Also, the fact that Denzel is African-American makes it glaringly obvious that Don John is not his legitimate brother, which helps clarify the story for the audience without a single word.
    4. Kate Beckinsale as Hero- Before she became a murderous vampire for the Underworld movies, Ms. Beckinsale made her film debut as the loveable and sweet Hero. Reportedly she didn’t like playing Hero, which is understandable because it’s kind of a thankless part, but the warmth and sweetness Ms. Beckinsale gives to the role, helps all the lead characters rush to her side. You get the sense it wasn’t hard for the actors Beatrice and Leonato to want to take care of her and protect her from Don John. So even if Hero is a thankless part, Kate Beckinsale did a remarkable job with it.
  1. Grade: 5 Shakespeare globes.
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