Much Ado About Nothing is on my list of guilty pleasure movies; I’m not quite too sure why it’s a guilty please but it just feels like one of those movies I shouldn’t love as much as I do. The film is yet another of Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations and while I haven’t seen all of his Shakespeare adaptations, I think this one might stand as one of my favorite adaptations right up there with Baz’s Romeo & Juliet.
Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies Much Ado About Nothing is pretty silly, and pretty complex. Beatrice & Benedick have a love hate relationship leaving heavily towards the hate but neither can stop trading witty barbs. When Don Pedro brings Benedick and the rest of his men to rest at Leonato’s house merriment ensues that includes the banter between Beatrice & Benedick and Benedick’s friend Claudio meets Leonato’s daughter Hero and falls madly in love. Claudio & Hero become engaged & Don Pedro decides to see if he can trick Beatrice & Benedick into falling in love. All would be good and merry except for Don John (Don Pedro’s brother) who meddles and tries to ruin everything his brother and men are doing.
I have said before that there is usually one thing with every Shakespeare adaptation that drives me mad; this entire film used to drive me mad. I didn’t understand the casting of all things. Now I realize that the casting is part of what makes this movie work so well as a comedy. It’s unexpected in some cases and absolutely perfect in others.
What I liked from the start wast young Kate Beckinsale as Hero opposite House’s Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio & Kenneth Branagh as Benedick opposite Emma Thompson as Beatrice. The chemistry between these couples is fabulous. The roles that used to throw me for a loop were Michael Keaton as the a local and annoying member of the law enforcement, Denzel Washtington as the jovial Don Pedro and Keanu Reeves as Don John.
The character of Dogberry (Michael Keaton) used to annoy me because I just thought he was horrible - I thought he was more Monty Python than Shakespeare. The more I have watched this film the more that has changed and Dogberry has simply become a wonderfully funny character and Michael Keaton is fabulous at it.
I never had anything against Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, but it threw me that he was a black character in an otherwise ethnically undiverse cast. Washington was great, but I had to get over my ideas that Shakespeare is a bunch of white Englishmen. He was really cast because he was perfect for the role.
This brings us to what used to be my biggest problem with the movie and what is now one of my greatest joys with this version of the play – Keanu Reeves as Don John. So much used to grate on me about his portrayal of the character. Let’s start with the obvious – he’s white. Don John is Don Pedro’s brother. Pedro is black, John is white…there is no logic outside of adoption that makes that make sense. Then we have the highly evolved acting skills of Keanu (please sense the sarcasm). I like Keanu, but I think he needs a very strong director’s hand to deliver a good performance and try as he might Keanu is one of the people that cannot deliver Shakespeare’s language in the slightest. In Much Ado About Nothing he gives one of the worst Shakespearian performances that I have ever seen. I did not understand why on earth he was cast as the villain of the piece.
Then one day the light bulb came on for me. I watched the movie again and realized that because of Keanu’s lack of Shakespeare skills the movie became funnier, his character became funnier. Don John is now one of my favorite characters in the film and I think Keanu’s casting was a feat of underhanded brilliance.
I don’t think enough people have seen this version of the Shakespeare classic and I highly encourage you to do so. I love it and I really want others to experience it.Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Wiliam Shakespeare & Kenneth Branagh
Beatrice: Emma Thompson
Benedick: Kenneth Branagh
Hero: Kate Beckinsdale
Claudio: Robert Sean Leonard
Don Pedro: Denzel Washington
Don John: Keanu Reeves
Leonato: Richard Briers
Dogberry: Michael Keaton
Beatrice: Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more. Men were deceivers ever. One foot in 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.