Full disclosure: I was going to write this review in iambic pentameter, but the Bard isn’t with me today.
I first watched this film in tenth grade drama class, one of many shown, and I remember it fondly. It’s no coincidence that Kenneth Branagh, the film’s director and star, played Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn—they are truly peerless when it comes to Shakespeare, both onstage and on the screen.
Here, Branagh has assembled one of the best casts put to film, and at one of the sunniest locations. You have Emma Thompson at her sharpest, Denzel Washington at his most dashing, Brian Blessed as his most boisterous, and Keanu Reeves at his most… okay, I’m still not sure why Keanu is in this film. He acts stoned on the regular. But you also have Kate Beckinsale in one of her youngest roles, proof that she actually does age (I was skeptical).
A quick overview of the story: Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard, Dead Poets Society) has fallen head over heels for young, innocent Hero (Beckinsale). Don John (Reeves) comes in, determined to ruin everything, and he indirectly convinces Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful. Claudio scolds Hero at their own wedding, and everyone pretends that Hero died of shame (she didn’t). But she has a cousin, they tell him, who looks exactly like her, and she might be willing to marry him (it’s just Hero). As this has been happening, Benedick and Beatrice (Branagh and Thompson) have sworn off love, even if their chemistry is undeniable. Naturally, the others plot to get them together. And it works. They set things right together. The unloved have fallen in love with each other, made all the more adorable when you realize Thompson and Branagh were married at the time.
If that was confusing for you, Michael Keaton plays a nearly pointless fool, and I myself am confused as to why the (fine) actor had to be included at all. As with any odd parts of the film, you just kind of go with it. A great deal can be excused in a comedy.
In the end, this film is a true delight. It has everything the mind desires. If you’re ever down, just needing a smart and sunny pick-me-up, as Mumford & Sons repeated, “Sigh no more.”
Much Ado About Nothing is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.