|MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993)|
Robert Sean Leonard
|"I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me."|
|Time: 110 mins.|
In the past decade, no one has brought Shakespeare to life better than Kenneth Branagh. His films are vital and accessible examples of the Bard's work for an audience rarely exposed to these classic and still powerful tales. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a tale of friendship, betrayal and the power of love to conquer all obstacles. It's one of Shakespeare's comedies and though it has a dark side, Branagh keeps the tone light, lovely and romantic. Shot in Italy, the countryside becomes another character, providing the perfect atmosphere for love and romance.
The story takes place in Sicily at the home of Leonato, a local town governor. He and his family welcome Don Pedro of Aragon (Washington) and his soldiers in celebration of their latest successful battle. They are all old acquaintances, which fills the occasion of their arrival with joy. Except for Benedick (Branagh) and Beatrice (Thompson), who pretend to loathe one another. Their constant war of words would be tiring, if it weren't so entertaining. Their attraction is obvious to everyone, but they both would rather die alone than be the first to admit it. In the meantime, Cupid takes his arrows elsewhere, ensnaring the heart of one of the other soldiers, Claudio (Leonard), who confesses to Don Pedro his love for Leonato's daughter Hero (Beckinsale). Everyone is thrilled by the match and a date for the wedding is set.
However, the road to true love is never smooth. Don John, played surprisingly well by Keanu Reeves, jealous of his brother Don Pedro and Claudio's happiness, decides to throw a wrench into the proceedings. He and his men hatch a plot to break the young lovers apart. Blinded by love, Claudio is an easy target. His feelings for Hero are shattered in an instant by Don John's foul trickery. The wedding becomes an occasion for despair when Claudio refuses to marry Hero on account of her tainted virtue. She protests her innocence to no avail, fainting from the shock of his angry accusation. Leonato believes his daughter's claim and launches a plan of his own to regain her good name.
Love also strikes the hard-hearted, who fall easier than expected. It takes a few little white lies, but Benedick and Beatrice soon find themselves falling for one another. Their friends, tired of their bickering, convince them that the other is desperately in love, but afraid to reveal it. They succumb to the ruse and become hopelessly smitten. The sharp-witted banter turns into declarations of love, but not for long. The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick provides the film with its most energetic and enjoyable moments. Without them, Shakespeare would've had another tragedy on his hands. Branagh and Thompson's real life relationship they were married at the time adds another dimension to their roles. There's an instant connection between them, which makes it easier to accept their falling for so obvious a deception.
This being a romantic comedy, love eventual triumphs over evil. Don John's wickedness is revealed and Claudio and Hero are united at last, though how that comes about is quite a pleasant surprise to our young hero. Love is in the air and no one is immune to its intoxicating aroma, not even the audience. MUCH ADO is a delightful romp full of wit, humor, joy and romance. It makes you smile and wish you were a part of the celebration. The production design and costumes evoke a magical time and place, where life is good and the living easy. The location, a sumptuous Italian villa, oozes with life, becoming a character in the piece. It is the perfect place to find love and Branagh exploits every inch of the space.
Some of the characters are a bit annoying, like the constable played by Michael Keaton, and some of the scenes are overly dramatic, but it is Shakespeare after all and when it comes to playing with words, there's no one better. Branagh and Thompson are wonderful together, Leonard and Beckinsale embody everything young lovers should be, Washington is powerfully sexy as the lonely leader and even Reeves delivers as the sullen villain. Even the music is light and gay. If you're looking for an intelligent, funny film that will raise your spirits, you've come to the right place. You have no heart if this story doesn't leave a smile on your face.