Terrific writer/director Joss Whedon, who last year brought us the phenomenally successful epic The Avengers, goes small and chic with his new film version of Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
I can just imagine the conversation between Joss Whedon and a collection of his actor friends, who’ve made up the ensemble casts in his movies and TV shows across the years, before going into pre-production on his new film version of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. It may have gone something like this:
“If you’re free, come and do a part in my Shakespeare adaptation.
But aren’t you in the middle of production on The Avengers?
It’ll just be over 12 days at my house.
Oh and I’m thinking of shooting it in black and white.
Apparently Whedon’s passion project for 20 years, his version of William Shakespeare’s glorious romantic comedy at times reaches perfection, particularly in the comic subplot involving a hilarious Nathan Fillion as local constable Dogberry and Tom Lenk as his partner Verges. But what constantly knocks you sideways watching this film is how incredible Shakespeare was as a dramatist, how he so brilliantly fashioned his characters and their language and that no matter what period or form his work is presented in, the man just knew how to tell a damn great story.
Here, the modern dress setting and black and white cinematography that Whedon has decided on are nice touches, with the idea perhaps that the movie should be as accessible as possible to a Whedon audience more used to watching vampire slayers or sci-fi cowboys than Shakespeare on film. Whilst at the same time, it has the effect of being somewhat of a homage to those classic screwball romantic comedies of old – it’s simple but really effective.
And what’s more, Whedon made this movie while he was in the middle of production for The Avengers!! Wacky.
Don Pedro (an ebullient Reed Diamond) and his compatriots Claudio (played with an eager passion by Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof in a nicely louche turn) return home from the war. Accompanying them under house arrest is Don Pedro’s errant brother John (a fantastically dark Sean Maher) who wishes more than anything that he could make some mischief that would destroy the happy, peaceful atmosphere that now follows at the estate of the esteemed Leonarto (the great Clark Gregg, terrific as always). He gets his wish because one of his cohorts Borachio, comes with the news that Claudio is enamoured of Leonato’s daughter Hero (a new discovery in Jillian Morgese), thereby setting the cogs whirring in John’s brain to turn events awry.
What provides another level to the proceedings is that Spencer Treat Clark’s superb Borachio actually carries a torch for Hero and his motives for the mischief are to try and shame Claudio in her eyes so she’ll look to him instead – it’s a nice touch and a reading I’ve not seen played in other productions. And what might also present a problem is that Leonato’s niece Beatrice, played with a winning sparkiness by Amy Acker, is the woman who Benedick loved and left before the war and now that he’s back, she is determined to make his life as unpleasant as possible. The good news for us is the more unpleasant she is, the funnier it is.
And so begins a very merry war of words that displays Shakespeare’s romantic wit at its finest and, in Whedon’s film, a very pleasant way to pass a couple of hours. What really makes the movie hit the heights of comedic brilliance is that subplot where Fillion’s security chief Dogberry and Lenk’s deputy Verges, almost despite their better efforts, spectacularly save the day. This really is the best and funniest interpretation I’ve seen of this part of the play and it had me in stitches. Fillion and Lenk seem to effortlessly enjoy what they’re doing in every moment – and we enjoy it too.
So now that MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is out on DVD and Blu-ray, do try and catch this delightful romantic comedy – it’s quite a find.