Sigh No More, Ladies

May 20, 2010 at 1:35 am (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.
II.3.62-69

These lines from Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing have always cracked me up. Kenneth Branagh’s wonderful 1993 film adaptation begins with Beatrice (played by Emma Thompson) reading these lines to her picnicking friends on a sun-drenched Tuscan hillside. Why can’t I be there? After several chilly, rainy spring days here, there is nothing much that looks better than drinking wine on a sunny Tuscan hill while listening to someone read silly poetry. Yes, please.

I have to make do with living vicariously through film. It’s okay. This film is so much fun. It’s light, it’s playful, it’s full of wit and charm. I love this movie. The backdrop is no small part of the charm here… seriously beautiful landscape in every direction. Fantastic gardens and a wonderful Italian villa—the perfect locale for flirtations and intrigue. Why can’t I live there?

It’s beautifully acted, for the most part. There’s witty chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick (Thompson and Branagh were married at the time this movie was filmed). Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) are a sweet young couple. Denzel Washington is good as Don Pedro. I also enjoy the small, but pivotal, part of Margaret (played by Imelda Staunton, who keeps showing up in great roles in these films… the nurse in Shakespeare in Love, Polly in Shakespeare Retold’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I also enjoy glimpses of Emma Thompson’s future face (her mother Phyllida Law plays the small part of Ursula, and I think the two look exactly alike).

I’m not a fan of Michael Keaton’s weird Dogberry character. He’s so gross. Funny, yes, with the silly mannerisms and pretend horses clopping away. But he’s too over the top for me. I also dislike Don John, as played by Keanu Reeves, but that’s my personal issue; Reeves is permanently typecast in my mind as Ted on an Excellent Adventure. He always seems uncomfortable with his lines and well, unable to act. It’s just my personal issue with him.

You know what really surprises me? This film received no Oscar nominations and very few awards of any kind (nominated for a Golden Globe… oh and Reeves was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor—I guess I’m not alone!). It’s too bad it was overlooked for awards; I think it’s really well done.

Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream provided me with many film adaptations, but I’m afraid the pickins are getting slimmer as I move through the reading list. I have only a handful of film versions of Much Ado About Nothing to watch. Actually, two versions I’d really like to see seem to be unavailable. If anyone knows how to get the original (maybe unreleased?) BBC version with Michael York as Benedick, I would love to see that. Ditto Zeffirelli’s version with Maggie Smith as Beatrice?

I plan to watch Branagh’s version again after I read the text. Of course, it has nothing to do with wanting to look at the Tuscan countryside some more. Why can’t I be there?

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16 Comments

  1. Tue Sorensen said,

    No, indeed you are not alone in disliking Reeves as Don John! Almost everyone who comments on this movie mention him as the one major low-point of the movie! :-) I’m not much bothered by him, myself; I think the character is supposed to be stiff as a board – it’s all part of Branagh’s perfect vision for this perfect version.

    I love Michael Keaton. Along with Kevin Kline and Stanley Tucci (and Denzel Washington), I consider Keaton one of America’s best actors (although admittedly he hasn’t done much of interest lately, which is strange), and I find him quite perfect as Dogberry. Can you tell I think this movie is just… perfect?! :-)

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      I just want to live at that villa and stare at the hills. That would work for me! It’s a really nice movie. I always liked the Thompson/Branagh team. I never can stand Keanu Reeves, so he didn’t really have a chance with me. I’ll have to see what I think after I read the text… I’m sure you’re right about Don John being a stiff character, so Keanu probably plays it right. Maybe the same with Dogberry. He’s so weird, though! I wish I could see the Zeffirelli film… do you know anything about it?

  2. Tue Sorensen said,

    This is the first time I even hear of a Zeffirelli version – Sadly, I know nothing about it. Where did you hear of it? It’s not listed on IMDb, as far as I can see…

  3. Tue Sorensen said,

    Sad. But at least there is this version, which I have on DVD:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071870/

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Ugh, I’ve been watching it. I can’t get into it at all for some reason. It’s like an instant sleep aid.

  4. Tue Sorensen said,

    Try again after you’ve finished reading the play! :-)

  5. Law & Order – Keystone Kops Style « Or What You Will said,

    […] like this Dogberry (Barnard Hughes) better than the strange Michael Keaton version in the Kenneth Branagh production. Here, Dogberry and his watchmen are portrayed as the Keystone Kops, and it’s very slapstick […]

  6. BBC = Gets the Job Done « Or What You Will said,

    […] setting is not breathtaking like the luscious Tuscan villa in the Branagh version, but it’s fine. The set is a lovely castle, the costumes are lovely Elizabethan costumes, the […]

  7. Northern Exposure « Or What You Will said,

    […] that I’ve read the text a couple times, I’ve also had a chance to go back and watch the Branagh and New York Shakespeare Festival versions. Here’s my take: the Branagh movie is by far […]

  8. Dead Poets « Or What You Will said,

    […] I got to thinking about it after seeing Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing where Robert Sean Leonard plays the young lover Claudio. In DPS, Leonard plays the pivotal role of […]

  9. An About Face « Or What You Will said,

    […] This take on Costard whispers to me of Michael Keaton’s bizarre portrayal of Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. But where Keaton’s Dogberry seemed to me distractingly weird, […]

  10. Let’s Do the Time Warp Again « Or What You Will said,

    […] Show. He is totally trapped in that Dr. Frank-N-Furter character for me (even more, maybe, than Keanu Reeves will always be Ted on an excellent […]

  11. Christopher Morgan said,

    One of the highlights for me in this work was the chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick. While reading the play Beatrice drove me nuts, however, in this movie i must admit i feel in love with her character right along with Benedick. I really liked the deep sentimental side to Beatrice portrayed in this film.

    I also didn’t like the bastard! I was curious however if this was the plan or if it was just bad acting?

    One of the greatest props of the play i feel was Benedick’s lawn chair! That was awesome, symbol of all being well in life, he can’t figure it out…why beatrice, and then when the final blow comes with the report of her love for him, he ends up on the ground with it.

    Was there a particular theme or prop that you felt most rewarding or portrayed?

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Hi — Thanks for your comments. I think that Emma Thompson was just great for this part, and she and Kenneth Branagh were perfect together. That movie overall is perfect, right?

      Keanu… what more can I say? I hate his acting. That said, John is not ever a likable character, of course. He’s a conniving bastard! I can’t see there ever being a likable rendition of him, but for me Keanu is such a twit.

      I’m trying to think of themes/props from the movie, but it’s been a while. I guess I will just have to watch it again. Darn.

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