As someone who never studied English beyond the compulsory GCSE level, Shakespeare has not been a part of my education for some considerable time now. Even when he was, I remember being largely disinterested in his work and wondering why he had been so intent on creating his own form of the English language – ‘He must’ve been quite up himself’, I thought, with my adolescent critical analysis in full gear. However, one of my English assignments at the time was to write an essay on the opening sequence in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, and the more I watched this the more I began to enjoy the intricacies of Shakespearean dialogue in a modern setting. For me, it invigorated an old story which I was sure I was already tired of.
Moving on from R+J, we have another of Will’s classic plays in Much Ado About Nothing. Behind this adaptation is a certain Mr Joss Whedon, known to the nerdy few as creator of TV series Buffy and Firefly, and now more widely known by the masses as that guy who pulled off the toughest task in superhero film-making – directing Avengers Assemble. This is his follow-up project and it couldn’t be more different from Marvel’s biggest film…apart from one aspect. Each project in the Whedonverse contains a wide roster of characters – from the crew of the Serenity up to the team of aforementioned heroes – and it’s in this that Whedon shows his strength as a director. Somehow throughout the proceedings he manages to give each character room enough to be memorable, to give us a chance to know them, without losing the momentum of the overarching plot. In Much Ado, the task of doing that is arguably harder than in Avengers, where characters were distinguished by elaborate costumes. Here we have a cast of dashing men in suits and lovely ladies in dresses…in sharp black and white, but the characters are as rich as the text itself, as if they had been coloured with a lavish palette.
The praise cannot all go to Whedon because that would mean overlooking the fantastic line-up of players. I recognise Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher from Firefly, and Clark Gregg from Avengers, and a quick IMDB search informs me that they are all past collaborators, having worked with Whedon at one time or another, meaning that a ‘yes’ was probably guaranteed as an answer even if it was at short notice. All the cast ease into their roles and clearly seem to be enjoying exercising their dramatic muscles with the Bard’s sharp dialogue, which appears to have remained stylistically similar in its transfer from page to screen. The Shakespearean language requires an adjusted ear and it may take a little while to tune in, but when you do you can really start to appreciate the cynical wit that laces the story.
For all its cynicism, this is a story of romance, and therefore must rest upon the shoulders of its two leads – Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. Their pairing is marvellous to watch as their initial frosty reunion (there ain’t nothing like Shakespearean put-downs!) gives way to playful confusion as they come across the love that they did not anticipate in some funny moments. It’s all very light-hearted, and this extends to the score (composed by Whedon) that skips along from scene to scene. Added to the monochrome photography this gives the film a modern flavour which is comforting to linger on.
It all comes together to create an air of casual sophistication and saccharine charm that is hard to dislike. Much Ado About Nothing is, like its own masquerade ball, a party you barely feel cool enough to attend, but once you’re in you’ll dance the night away, drink in hand, lost in the dizzying cocktail of fairly lights and breezy romance. In the words of Capt. Reynolds (see Firefly), “a mighty fine shindig”.