Much Ado About Nothing
This lo-fi project from Joss Whedon is an elegant adaptation of the Shakespearean play
It’s not classed as one of Shakespeare's hard-to-categorise 'problem plays', but there’s plenty that’s problematic in this mid-period comedy. The traducement, rejection and humiliation of the innocent Hero, for instance – and her capitulation thereto – surely constitutes one of the most brutal betrayals of a female character not just in one of the comedies but in all of Shakespeare. Even the title is customarily read as a misogynistic gag: 'nothing' meaning 'no thing', 'thing' referring to a penis. All of which might cause some to wonder why this particular play drew the attention of Joss Whedon, one of Hollywood’s prime purveyors of female characters of substance. Well, for a start Much Ado… also features, between will-they-won’t-they ex-lovers Beatrice and Benedick, some of literature’s most gloriously spiky romantic banter, the tone of which has plentiful echoes in Whedon’s work for both big and small screens (as well as in more or less every romcom every made).
Also, Whedon is quite simply a Shakespeare nut; this isn’t an out-of-the-blue stunt project, but the product of years of private readings put on for Whedon’s own enjoyment with friends at his own house. This bargain basement production uses that very set, and keeps everything simple, the better to let the dialogue sparkle. The actors are all experienced and adept speakers of the language, with Amy Acker a particular pleasure as the warm, witty Beatrice. This does have an inevitable air of privileged pals messing about, but why not? This version doesn’t reinvent the text, but it wears both its wit and its weirdness admirably lightly, neatly transposing the text into a world of smart house parties, cliquey secrets and fratboy gossip. It’s rather joyous to see a name director pursue a true passion project, and realise it with such simplicity, elegance and emotional directness.
Much Ado About Nothing screened at Glasgow Film Festival. On release from Fri 14 Jun.