Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Benedict (Kenneth Branagh) are two princes battling to win the hearts of the ladies they are in love with. The object of Benedict’s desire is Beatrice (Emma Thompson), a sharp witted and beautiful female, whilst Claudio’s path to his lady Hero (Kate Beckinsale) is obstructed by the evil meddling of Don Juan (Keanu Reeves), who has been brought to the land by everyone’s friend Don Pedro (Denzel Washington). Can love win for both these couples or is fate not on their side?
Over the past few years director Kenneth Branagh has made the jump up to big budget Hollywood films (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), but prior to those, his main directorial focus was bringing his love affair with William Shakespeare’s work to the big screen. Often classed as the most fanciful and funny of The Bard’s work, Much Ado About Nothing certainly suited Branagh’s appetite for making it ‘his’ version. It’s light and playful, but when needed it develops a sinister and rather darkened path.
Fast pace ensures the movie never lulls at any point, and its passion excels in the entire cast as they enjoy every minute of entertainment. Gleefully dancing and making merriment with those around them on the stunning beautiful set in Tuscany. The language is kept as Shakespeare had written but with such stellar performances from the entire cast making it easy to follow the pattern of the story. Even if we never understood Shakespeare from our school days, this version is probably the best opening into his work and from such a fantastic vision as Branagh’s too. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with The Bard’s work later in life, especially after seeing this.
Branagh excels in the role of Benedict as he flip flops through life until he falls for the beauty of Beatrice. From then on he becomes a hopeless romantic, tripping over chairs and the like along with making a fool of himself as he becomes tongue-tied around the females. His performance has something of a Chaplin meets Baldrick style to it, enthralling and downright hilarious.
Thompson also has a flame for the comedy and sharp wit as she shows how easy it is to deliver Shakespeare’s dialogue in a digestible manner. Thompson and Branagh completely sizzle as the sparring, yet love-lorn, couple and make the entire film a joyous watch. Special mention must also go to a short appearance by Michael Keaton as Dogberry. A devious character played like Beetlejuice drunk on the free-flowing wines of Tuscany.
Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing is quick witted, sharp, snappy and above all else, easily consumerable even to the most unwilling of viewers who are not fans of Shakespeare’s work. It’s a true testament to the cast, and director, that not one of them stands out of line or overawes another with their performance. Spectacularly shot with real charm and love for the material. Shakespeare’s work has never been better in movie land.