MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Direeted and written by Kenneth Branagh (adapted from William Shakespeare); produced by Stephen Evans, David Parfitt and Kenneth Branagh for Samuel Goldwyn. Starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.
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Two down, and, say, thirty-odd to go. As an old English major with a fondness for Shakespeare, I can only hope that Branagh's energy holds out until he's made movies of all of the bard's plays.
His Henry V of a few years ago was entertaining and fresh; and the same is true of Much Ado, a completely different kind of story, and handled with even more panache.
This is the play with Benedick and Beatrice, the Sam and Diane of Shakespeare, the couple who trade barbs and snide comments for the first half, then discover they're really in love. Thompson and Branagh (off-screen husband and wife) fit these roles so exquisitely that it will be hard to see anyone else in them from now on.
Surprisingly, the rest of the major players are almost as good, and some are actually Americans (face it, we often have more trouble than our British counterparts with blank verse). Denzel Washington is especially striking as Don Pedro. And Keanu Reeves moves well beyond Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to do a good job with the only villain in this otherwise completely cheerful picture.
Michael Keaton's Dogberry is the only less-than-successful character. He's too much like Beetlejuice and goes 'way too far with the gross silliness. Shakespeare put characters like him in his plays to appeal to the masses, but Keaton aims for much too low a common denominator, just the same.
Some Shakespeare snobs have faulted Branagh's editing of the play, as well as his enthusiastic rendition of the story. Pooh! I say. The movie's delightful. And if taking a light, non-reverential attitude toward such classics might make them more palatable to the mass movie market, so much the better.
Some viewers of Much Ado might actually be curious enough to read the original. Some students who see it might actually not moan and groan so much when they hear they're to study Shakespeare next year. And that's all to the good, as far as I can see.