10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Sigh no more, ladies...,
This review is from: Much Ado About Nothing [DVD]  (DVD)
One of the problems with Shakespeare's comedies, an English professor once told me, is that they are not funny. Now, this is not to say that Shakespeare was a bad comedy writer, or that this professor had no sense of humour. In fact, quite the opposite--he had turned his sense of humour and love of humour into an academic career in pursuit of humour.
What he meant by the comment was, humour is most often a culture-specific thing. It is of a time, place, people, and situation--there is very little by way of universal humour in any language construction. Perhaps a pie in the face (or some variant thereof) does have some degree of cross-cultural appeal, but even that has less universality than we would often suppose.
Thus, when I suggested to him that we go see this film when it came out, he was not enthusiastic. He confessed to me afterward that he only did it because he had picked the last film, and intended to require the next two selections when this film turned out to be a bore. He also then confessed that he was wrong.
Brannagh managed in his way to carry much of the humour of this play into the twentieth century in an accessible way -- true, the audience was often silent at word-plays that might have had the Elizabethan audiences roaring, but there was enough in the action, the acting, the nuance and building up of situations to convey the same amount of humour to today's audience that Shakespeare most likely intended for his groups in the balconies and the pit.
The film stars Kenneth Brannagh (who also adapted the play for screen) and Emma Thompson as Benedict and Beatrice, the two central characters. They did their usual good job, with occasional flashes of excellence. Alas, I'll never see Michael Keaton as a Shakespearean actor, but he did a servicable job in the role of the constable (and I shall always remember that 'he is an ass') -- the use of his sidekick as the 'horse' who clomps around has to be a recollection of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where their 'horses' are sidekicks clapping coconut shells together.
I'll also not see Keanu Reeves as a Shakespearean, yet he was perhaps too well known (type-cast, perhaps) in other ways to pull off the brief-appearing villian in this film.
Lavish sets and costumes accentuate the Italianate-yet-very-English feel of this play. This film succeeds in presenting an excellent but lesser-known Shakespeare work to the public in a way that the public can enjoy.