I found Stuart Burge’s 1984 version of Much Ado About Nothing (part of the BBC’s Television Shakespeare series) quite enjoyable. It’s a straightforward rendition, true to the text, and nothing odd (i.e., green fairies) or annoying (i.e., boring, beige people). There are no bicycles, no Keystone Kops, no surreal umbrellas.
This is the 35th film adaptation I’ve watched for this blog, and I’d gotten so used to gimmicks, I’d kind of forgotten that Shakespeare could be staged in a straightforward Elizabethan setting… and work! Yes, this film works for me.
The 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 actors are all good. Now I realize how unusual that last statement is. None of the actors stand out as incredible, I knew none of their names going into it, and I don’t recognize any of them. They’re all good! None are floundering with their lines, none seem uncomfortable in their roles… I see now that this must be very difficult to achieve with Shakespeare.
Beatrice (played by Cherie Lunghi) is quick-witted and sharp-tongued. Lunghi has Beatrice down to a T. I found myself sometimes comparing her in my mind to Emma Thompson in the role, but she doesn’t fare poorly in the comparison. I love Emma Thompson… I find her facial expressions and facility with the words really amazing. But Lunghi does a great job. Her Beatrice is a bit more uptight in prim Elizabethan outfits than Thompson’s loose-limbed ease with her open-necked bodices. But still, it works well. No complaints.
And, she’s got great chemistry with Benedick, played by Robert Lindsay (it’s funny, I see now that Lindsay also played Lysander in the BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I didn’t recognize him at all). I really appreciate Benedick’s transformation in the film from scruffy, bearded soldier to clean-shaven, handsome swain.
Besides B&B, the rest of the actors do admirable jobs. In the introduction in my edition of the text, it says that the character Don John is “taciturn and opaque–and for most actors almost unplayable.” I had my strong issues with Keanu Reeves in the role in Branagh’s version. With this in my mind, I admire Vernon Dobtcheff’s take on Don John in this BBC version. He’s socially awkward and villainous… a devilish combination. I think he does a good job. I’m not terribly fond of Don Pedro in this version (played by Jon Finch), but I think he’s true to the text. The more I get to know the Don Pedro character, the less I like him.
Anyway, this version is straightforward Shakespeare. Nothing fancy, but it works. It has the drawbacks, I guess, of the Elizabethan setting and British accents (for people who find that intimidating). I like it all. Thumbs up to the BBC and thumbs up to B&B. They put on quite a smooch at the end.
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