Shot entirely in black and white and on-location at director Joss Whedon’s home in California, Much Ado About Nothing is a snappy re-telling of the classic Shakespeare play, bursting with wit, laced with innuendo and filled with fantastic performances.
The film opens with a flashback of Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) locked in a passionate embrace. Waking in the morning, Benedick sneaks out of the apartment leaving his one night stand to sleep. This notable addition to the story completely changes how the audience observe Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship: we have seen their history, so we appreciate the sexual tension between them all the more.
Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) arrives to the home of his friend and host Leonato (Clark Gregg), bringing with him his fellow companions Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick , as well as three prisoners: the prince’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Sean Maher) and his cohorts Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade (Riki Lindhome). Leonato lives with his daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and niece Beatrice.
The original language and most of the original text remains, although there have been a few minor changes – notably the removal of some antisemitism. The director and actors obviously have a deep affection for the text which translates seamlessly onto the screen. The dialogue is quick, razor-sharp and flows naturally. But there’s enough inflection in tone on occasion to give new meaning to the delivery.
Beatrice and Benedick exchange sharp, but amiable quips to each other, while Claudio, with the help of the prince, wins the hand of Hero in marriage. In the week leading up to the wedding, Don Pedro, Claudio and Hero conspire to trick Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don John plots to against the happy couple, a scheme that threatens to push everyone apart.
Whedon makes quite a substantial change that makes his version of Much Ado About Nothing more interesting. Although originally a minor character in the text with relatively few lines, by changing the gender of Conrade from man to woman, the director brings more prominence to the role; introducing Riki Lindhome to Don Jon’s usual soliloquy: as Don Jon plots his evil plans for Hero and Claudio, the solo speech is transformed into a passionate seduction.
Although the entire cast should be commended for their brilliant performances, the stars of the show are Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. The pair are electric together on-screen: passionate, witty, funny, but equally charismatic individually. Denisof’s soliloquy is slightly reminiscent of Zapp Brannigan from Futurama, his delivery being almost cartoonish, but charming nonetheless.
Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a magical journey that treats its source material with the utmost respect whilst being playfully inventive. It’s a wonderful version of this much beloved Shakespeare play, and one all should watch.
Much Ado About Nothing Extras
When it comes to audio commentary there’s generally few better than Joss Whedon. And this DVD is no exception. Joss leads the viewer through a thoroughly interesting account making the film, background information on his relationship with the film’s stars, and what inspired the director to make the decisions he did. A theatrical trailer is the only additional extra.
Much Ado About Nothing is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 7th October.