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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing: Play versus Film

William Shakespeare is well known for his dramatic plays, Much Ado About Nothing being no exception. Set in the sixteenth century, this drama was first performed in 1612, with a film adaptation released in 1993 – and then another in 2012. With a recurring theme of social grace, deception, and public shaming, this play explores the idea of blind romance, and how easily we can be deceived. Originally written as a drama, Kenneth Branagh, (producer, director, and leading actor) transforms this story into a comedy – minimizing the darker elements. When looking at these two medias together, it is easy to see where Branagh got his inspirations from, and where he introduced his own ideas. Whereas Shakespeare relied mainly on his language for effect, his sensuality performed verbally, Kenneth Branagh made his more visual. 

The casting was very strong in this film, including  Keeanu Reeves, because even when he was in an excited crowd, he managed to bring the presence of an isolated menace that you would want to stay away from. In this play, Don John is the bitter step-brother that recently made up with his brother, Don Pedro about a prior conflict. With all that goes on in Kenneth Branagh’s version, the antagonist Don John is swept under the rug slightly – leaving him to be a very one-dimensional character.

Another positive comparison between the play and 1993-film adaptation is the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice. There is much banter between these two characters, and the film was able to capture all of the unsaid emotions. From their first scene the audience could feel the tension between them, and knew that they were only trying to fight these emotions from themselves. This was a very entertaining relationship to watch develop, and added more to the comedy instead of the drama. Emma Thompson, who plays Beatrice, spent nearly six years married to Kenneth Branagh before separating in 1995. This relationship helps to explain the easy chemistry that these two had on-screen.

I believe that Act Two was the strongest in this play, both in word and on-screen, and was very well adapted, not straying far from the original script. This is an important scene because it begins the development of many important relationships. However, what the play does not tell you from reading is that the masks they are wearing are very symbolic. Originally seen to be meant as nothing more than a gathering among everything, there is a lot of character development and plot set up – leading to the climax.  These masks showed characters for what they really were, even if they didn’t yet know it, and thus added much to the overall film.

Act four was a very engaging act, well done in both the play and film. This is the scene in which we find the most character development, especially in Claudio. This character was much more developed in the film compared to the play, as he was less arrogant and naïve, and instead more sympathetic. After all of the accusations against Hero, he is evidently hurt, and expresses this through emotional and physical outburst. This wedding scene was a very accurately depicted dramatic event, that can be felt both in words from the script and on-screen. This is the most positive comparison between the play and film, and also begins the conflict and climax of this play.

From the very beginning, there were differences between the original play and 1993 film adaptation. In the film, it opens with a voice-over monologue from Beatrice, something not seen in act one of the play. I found this to be a good introduction to the film because it is calmly captivating, warning women that all men are deceivers and cheaters – foreshadowing the later conflict. This scene also shows the closeness of the town, having them all gathered on the lawn enjoying the weather, and Beatrice entertaining them.
The character of Dogberry was portrayed differently in these two medias; in the original play he is slow-witted and tries to come off as differently than he is. In the film, he has the personality of being “loony” between pretending to ride in on a horse, and other antics. This silly way of acting takes away from the real humour that stems from Dogberry getting his words confused. I personally preferred scene three in the play, as it seemed more reasonable and put together, instead of leaving me confused like the movie did.

Overall, I was not disappointed with either the play or film, and believe it to be one of the lightest Shakespeare plays I have read. Although there were some differences when comparing the two, they were both very enjoyable experiences. Kenneth Branagh does a fine job at bringing these older stories to live in a relatively modern way, without straying far from the original meanings. I look forward to watching more of Branagh’s adaptations, and hope they are as good as Much Ado About Nothing.

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