© 2004 John Murphy
Much Ado About Nothing was a minor sensation upon its release in 1993. By that time, Kenneth Branagh had come to be regarded as a cinematic Wunderkind, gene-splicing Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier. Flush from the success of heavy-hitters like Henry V and Dead Again, the tireless auteur released this sunny show, appropriately enough, in the spring of 1993 and scored another deserved mini-smash. Thankfully, jealous Time and Branagh’s subsequent slip-ups have not dulled its sheen. The movie is a joyous, energetic romp; a happy reminder of Branagh’s unique talent for making a four-hundred year old text seem funnier and more relevant than the latest insipid sitcom or humorless Pauly Shore flick.
The great thing about Branagh is that he is aiming at the same audience who’d enjoy an episode of Friends or the comic misadventures of Bill & Ted. His version of Shakespeare is for everyone, not dusty academics or film snobs. To this end, he rounds out Shakespeare’s script with imaginative bits of physical comedy and some inspired casting. The action clips along nicely, breezing through Shakespeare’s Wodehousian comedy of errors with a welcome sparkle. Drama depends on mistaken identity, double-crosses, and Shakespeare can’t help but throw in a near-tragedy twist on the broad plot, but things arrange themselves neatly by the end, and all get their just desserts.
Okay, so Branagh’s stunt casting isn’t an across-the-board success. Keanu Reeves as a villainous bastard (in both the old and new sense) shows some limitation with the language, but fortunately for us he’s “Not of many words” and does look good grimacing while sporting a “Hello, I’m obviously the Bad Guy” black beard. Denzel Washington, another movie star not typically associated with a classical repertoire, acquits himself with grace and confidence as regal Don Pedro. Why hasn’t he done more Shakespeare since this movie?