For centuries, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing have been the fans’ favourite. The classic tale about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance is undoubtedly funny and heartfelt at the same time.
About a few months ago I read the play for the first time but it didn’t strike a chord. I mean there is no denying that Shakespeare excels in comedy as well as tragedy themes, but as far as his comedy play goes, I prefer his other play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Even so that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie version! To be honest both of the movie adaptation brings out something new to the story that I didn’t catch earlier.
However, the question remains: Which one in the end is better? or simply, which one do you prefer?
Kenneth Branagh’s remains faithful to the original adaptation with horses, large landscape, white gowns, nude people and dramatic enactment, while Whedon’s modern version depends on small-budget setting. Since we are all mostly familiar with the over-the-top Shakespeare plays’ setting, I think many will prefer Branagh’s version instead, since you can feel the ‘Messina feeling’ as William Shakespeare intended. Of course Whedon’s version itself is nothing less than ordinary. To my surprise Whedon and crew filmed the movie in Santa Monica, California and not Tuscany, Italy, like Branagh did. Learning that information, I have to say that Whedon’s crushed my small-budget stigma and prove that you can manipulate budget as long as you have talent.
Directing & Adaptations
In the 90s, Kenneth Branagh has done several Shakespearean movies. To think you can out do him seems impossible. However if you want to turn, twist and repackaged a 500-year-old story and present it to the modern audience then no one can argue that Joss Whedon has done a spectacular job.
I mean how is it even possible to not have a Shakespearean setting but still remain true to the adaptation? He let the “Art” and “Thou’s” stay and focus to recreate the other aspect. Of course for those who aren’t familiar with the play you can get the headache of your lifetime figuring what the heck are they talking about. But for the fans, this one is genuinely entertaining. Another thing, Whedon’s decision to shoot the film in black and white is whimsical but it paid off – it’s not pretentious, it’s unique. He also let his actors free by not forcing them to look into the camera while reciting their lines or act out with grand gesture. For example, the scene with Dogberry in Whedon’s was simply delightful. Nathan Fillion tried hard but not TOO hard. Saying that, however, I actually like Michael Keaton in Branagh’s Dogberry, he was amusing but exaggerated as always.
Am I forgetting something? Oh right the English Renaissance’s song “Hey Nonny Nonny” song was also cleverly placed in Whedon’s. We listened to Thompson singing at the beginning in Branagh’s but Whedon take it one step further by featuring the song in the background at the classy masquerade night. Well played Whedon!
What made an ensemble memorable in a film: is it the director or is it the cast chemistry itself? On one hand we have a set of Hollywood big leagues in Branagh’s: Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard. Meanwhile we see TV actors in Whedon’s (which I loved!): Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Sean Maher and Franz Kranz – which one is the better team?
Branagh’s cast, as anyone should expect in his movies are great performers (perhaps not Robert Sean Leonard, sorry) who did well in their respective roles. Branagh and Thompson were married at the time and their chemistry is palpable for you to see. Reeves played the bitter Don Jon adequately while Denzel Washington as the black Don Pedro? Are you kidding me, you can’t get better than this.
But the TV actors were not far behind. In fact, I must say they surpass my expectation. Acker and Denisof might not have the former’s chemistry but they delivered their lines in such perfection that it seem natural to speak Old English in modern time. Acker’s Beatrice reminds me so much of Thompson, in a good way, and Denisof is purely entertaining. I like the scene when Benedick’s friends try to set them up and we see Denisof jumping here and there, hiding from the obvious glass doors from his friends. This scene stands out and showcased Denisof’s comical talent. For the supporting cast, I especially like Maher’s modernize Don Pedro; he was blah in the book but not in this one.
Who wins, then? It depends on how you see it. If you like renowned movie stars than Branagh’s cast is unmatchable. But if you like surprises and root for the underdogs then Whedon’s cast is the obvious choice. 🙂
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