Name: Much Ado About Nothing
Release Date: 1993
Writers: Kenneth Branagh (screenplay), William Shakespeare (play)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Denzel Washington: Don Pedro
Keanu Reeves: Don John
Robert Sean Leonard: Claudio
Emma Thompson: Beatrice
Kenneth Branagh: Benedick
Richard Briers: Leonato
Kate Beckinsale: Hero
Imelda Staunton: Margaret
Jimmy Yuill: Friar Francis
Brian Blessed: Antonio
Michael Keaton: The Constable
Phyllida Law: Ursula
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn Mayer
Run-Time: 111 mins.
But before you do that, do this: Fire up the Netflix or trudge down to the nearest Red Box rental kiosk and pick up a copy of this 1993 adaptation of one of The Bard’s best-loved comedies.
Because before he was known for directing the larger-than-life exploits of proto-Shakespearean super heroes, Kenneth Branagh excelled at introducing modern audiences to William Shakespeare. And this gorgeously shot early 1990s feature is, hands-down, the best effort of his career.
In Branagh’s hands, Shakespeare’s sixteenth century source material becomes as fresh and modern as any of the rom-coms that Hollywood churns out with such depressing regularity these days.
The story, in short, is this: While sojourning and Sicily, young lovers Claudio (Leonard) and Hero (Beckinsale) become engaged and must wait a week until their wedding.
To help pass the time, they and their friends, Don Pedro (Washington), Leonato (Briers) and Antonio (Blessed) hatch a plot to set up a match between confirmed bachelor (Benedick) and the spunky Beatrice (Thompson).
But before the young lovers make it to the altar, they have to endure allegations of infidelity spread by the loathsome Don John (Reeves, as wooden as ever). And young Claudio must redeem himself in the eyes of his future father-in-law (Briers).
Then a real-life couple, Thompson and Branagh have undeniable chemistry as the reluctant Benedick and Beatrice.
The two bicker and fight, exchanging pointed jibes in metered poetry that nonetheless come across as perfectly comprehensible because of the skill of the two players. Think of them as a Renaissance-era Sam and Diane or Ross and Rachel, and you’ll immediately catch on.
Best-known these days as the young doctor on “House,” Leonard brings a wide-eyed wonder as the young Claudio. Beckinsale, who was then a long way away from her days as a PVC-wearing werewolf hunter, breaks your heart when she protests her innocence of infidelity to her skeptical fiancé.
In a film replete with little moments of pleasure (not least of which is the cinematography, which could easily have done service as a PSA for the Sicilian Tourism Board), there’s one particularly delightful stand-out.
That comes in the form of Keaton, whose delirious turn as the drunken and quite possibly insane Constable, provides one laugh-out-loud moment after the other.
If your only memory of Shakespeare is bad summer stock or the stuff you were force-fed as a schoolboy by a particularly sadistic English teacher, give yourself a break and try “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s one of the rare romantic-comedies that holds up under repeated viewings and you’ll come away with something new every time.