‘The course of true love never did run smooth’.
Sorry folks but I apparently have to go against the tide of what seems to be general opinion and admit I was a little disappointed with this new version by Joss Whedon (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘Cabin in the Woods’,’ Toy Story ‘)of ‘Much Ado About Nothing ‘.The film was shot in and around Joss Whedon’s own home in Santa Monica, California, while he was still working on the blockbuster superhero film ‘The Avengers.’ I guess I have been spoilt by the glorious Kenneth Branagh / Emma Thompson version.
Somewhat cut and abridged, the plot is basically as follows : Leonato , ( lithe Fred Astaire look alike Clark Gregg) the governor of Messina , is visited by his friend Don Pedro(Reed Diamond) who is returning home from a campaign against his rebellious brother Don John ( handsome Sean Maher) . Included in Don Pedro’s entourage are two of his officers, Benedick( Alexis Denisof (‘Buffy’, ‘Angel’, ‘Dollhouse’),) and Claudio ( Franz Kanz (‘Cabin in the Woods, ‘Dollhouse’)) . While staying in Leonato’s huge palace Claudio unexpectedly falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero ( Jillian Morgese ) whilst Benedick renews his verbal sparring with Beatrice ( Amy Acker of ‘Angel’ and, ‘Dollhouse) the governor’s niece. All seems wonderful when Don Pedro acts as intermediary for Claudio and Heros’ engagement.
In the days before the wedding Don Pedro with the help of Claudio , Leonato and Hero attempts for a lighthearted prank to act as Cupid to Beatrice and Benedick. But this is one of the darker Shakespearean ‘ Comedies ‘ that dangerously skirts possible tragedy: Don John can be seen as a precursor to Iago in ‘Othello’ perhaps as he surreptitiously plots to destroy the marriage of Claudio and Hero before it has even begun. Will he succeed ? Will Claudio and Leonato discover the truth? Hero’s impugned virtue and faked death are rightly treated like tragedies .Almost everyone dons a mask to test someone else’s loyalty, unfortunately an impulse that can often lead to disaster. Or does it in this case ? ( Here for example at the masked ball, disguised as a Sheik,Benedick discovers some home truths about himself).
The position of women in society at the time is highlighted by poor Heros’ situation when she is wrongly accused and Beatrice’s great speech railing against being a woman. Shot in black and white it is updated to now with computers, security cameras and mobile phones, but has a very 1950’s feel.The men are mostly in very swish Prada style suits .There are some wonderful use of opening atmospheric close ups of trees etc and very effective use is made of reflections and mirrors ( eg when Hero is first prepared for her wedding).I liked the irony when the men were shown to their quarters and the bedrooms were full of stuffed soft toys.
However I found Alexis Denisof as Benedick somewhat stilted,determinedly square-jawed and rather tense . Amy Acker’s Beatrice is a bit freer but still restrained .The scenes where Beatrice and Benedick overhear their friends supposedly discussing their secret affection for each other – Beatrice hiding in a kitchen alcove , Benedick full of acrobatic tumbles and leaps past the glass windows ) are much fun as is the way a couple of Benedick’s monologues are done as if he is going for a run , or talking to the wedding decorations. Benedick’s hammy overdone posing when Beatrice angrily comes to say ‘against my will I am sent to bid you come to dinner’ is a riot.
Fran Kranz as Claudio is excellent , his scenes terrifically handled especially for example where he accuses Hero wrongly and calls off the wedding and also the scenes where he realises she was falsely slandered .
The low ‘comic’ scenes see Nathan Fillion (‘Buffy’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Serenity’ ).and Tom Lenk as the bumbling supposedly hardboiled film noir detectives Dogberry and Verges with ‘cool’ sunglasses who lock themselves out of the police car.
For me this was an uneven film which didn’t quite know what it was trying to be. I found it rather artificial.While yes the main characters were well played it just didn’t quite ‘gel’ .
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING opens today .Rated M, Running time : 108 minutes