.

Much Ado About Nothing

Emma Thompson

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
May 7, 1993

Shakespeare never thought to instruct the actors to get bare assed in the first scene of this dark comedy of love and revenge. Director Kenneth Branagh, the Irish firebrand who brought film audiences back to the Bard in the thrilling Henry V, rectifies that oversight. Everyone is dressing to welcome Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and his lords, Benedick (Branagh) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard), home to Italy after a victorious battle. In interviews, Branagh has said he wanted something "sexy, fleshy and sensuous" and none of the usual "fruity-voiced, tight-assed museum acting." Joining Branagh's British wife, Emma Thompson, who plays Beatrice — Benedick's romantic sparring partner — are American actors Branagh finds "emotionally fearless." Besides Washington and Leonard, there's Michael Keaton as Dogberry, the clownish constable, and Keanu Reeves as Don John, Pedro's villainous half brother.

The setup is invigorating fun, especially when the soldiers gallop in hootin' and hollerin' like horny cowboys home from a long cattle drive. Heaving bosoms and bulging codpieces are the order of the day. But Branagh doesn't know when to stop. The picture is overripe, and with few exceptions, so are the performances. Keaton seems to be making up for his admirable restraint in the two Batman films. As for Reeves, such lines as "Come, come let us thither" do not fall trippingly off this surfer dude's tongue. Of the men, only Washington commands the screen without crowding it.

There should be fireworks when the men believe John's false accusation that Claudio has been betrayed by his intended, Hero (lovely Kate Beckinsale). But Branagh and the wimpy Leonard give Shakespeare's skewering of male vanity the impact of a Beverly Hills, 90210 episode.

Thompson, an Oscar winner for Howards End, is an actress of unflagging elegance. Even in thick pancake makeup, she's an enchanting Beatrice, with a sharp wit that is never merely shrewish. But Branagh, who brought such raw grace to Henry V, is now a ham in thrall to his plummy vocal dexterity. His Benedick is strong in flourishes, weak in feeling.

Since Henry V, spontaneity has vanished from Branagh's directing. Dead Again, a Hitchcock pastiche, was followed by Peter's Friends, a gross Big Chill rip-off. Now, by goosing Shakespeare, Branagh patronizes young audiences. The climax, in which all the characters link arms in a dance and sing, could serve as a textbook illustration of forced gaiety. Much Ado is much askew.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    • Child of God
      star rating
      Well Go USA Entertainment
    • lucy
      star rating
      Universal Pictures
    • star rating
      IFC Films
    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “San Francisco Mabel Joy”

    Mickey Newbury | 1969

    A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com