Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is quite literally a home movie – Whedon shot the film at his Santa Monica house in just 12 days with a bunch of actor-friends (a repertory company largely drawn from his TV series Angel and Firefly), putting to good use a break he was contractually obliged to take following completion of principal photography on The Avengers.
If this makes the movie sound like a Hollywood gazillionaire’s embarrassing vanity project, think again: filmed in lustrous black and white, Whedon’s Much Ado is an elegant and intelligent, hugely entertaining modern-day version of the play. The setting may be contemporary, the action taking place in California rather than the Sicily of the original, but the language and the story remain resolutely faithful to Shakespeare.
The plot goes like this. Home from the wars, the dashing Benedick (Alexis Denisof) resumes his love-hate relationship with the sharp-tongued Beatrice (Amy Acker), while his impetuous friend Claudio (Clark Gregg) woos the fair and innocent Hero (Jillian Morgese). But a conniving villain is plotting to destroy their happiness…
One or two slight missteps aside, Whedon handles all this with graceful panache. Then again, perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that he’s so in tune with the play. After all, as they bicker and banter their way through the battle of the sexes and into falling in love, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick laid down the template for those sparring rom-com lovers that Hollywood loves so much.
It’s clear, though, that Whedon loves Shakespeare and has a real feel for the Bard’s language. So do his cast. Denisof and Acker spark together wonderfully, their exchanges bristling with wit. It’s a shame Whedon opens the film with a flashback of showing them in bed together before the action begins, a jarring shot that undercuts the sexual tension that crackles between the pair as they strive to deny their mutual love. This glimpse of modern-day sexual manners also makes it harder for us to accept the vehemence with which the callow Claudio rejects Hero for supposed infidelity.
Yet despite these minor flaws, Whedon’s Much Ado is a joy. And who knew that Shakespeare’s wince-inducing clowns Constable Dogberry and his sidekick Verges, played here by Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as a pair of bumbling LAPD types, could be so funny?
In cinemas from Friday 14th June.
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