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Literature into Film: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Literature into Film: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

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"I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes; and moreover I will go with thee to thy uncle's."

I picked up a copy of Much Ado About Nothing from our library sale a few months ago. Ever since I read Lucy Parker’s Act Like It and then her subsequent short story about Richard and Lainie, I have been itching to read about Beatrice and Benedick. So I finally decided to give it a go. My only Shakespeare experience was with Romeo and Juliet in eighth grade. I really enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing, but I did have to slow down and read most of the footnotes. I really enjoyed the banter and bickering between Beatrice and Benedick; they are hands down the best part of the whole play. Everyone else is a little tedious. 

There have been several screen adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing and even a couple of the theatre performances have been recorded. So after I finished reading the play, I decided to watch the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson film adaptation. I’ll be honest, I did not have high expectations, but I definitely didn't think the movie would even fail to match my low expectations. I am a big Emma Thompson fan and enjoy Robert Sean Leonard whenever I see him (hello, Dead Poets Society). Denzel Washington quoting Shakespeare, bad guy Keanu Reeves, and a baby Kate Beckinsale? This had all the makings of something I would really enjoy. But wow, was I really uncomfortable watching this film. Within the first five minutes, there was slow-motion running and a lot of unexpected nudity. Then for roughly the next two hours, it was incredibly over-the-top acting and so many weird fade-ins and cheesy music cues. I could have chalked it up as a weird early 1990s British film and been fine with it, until the wedding scene where Claudio humiliates Hero. First of all, Robert Sean Leonard should never make such violent gestures while acting; he is much better suited to subtlety. After that, it was very hard for me to take this movie seriously. I would much rather see the play at the theatre than watch a film version. Emma Thompson was the one redeeming factor for me, as she can pretty much do no wrong in my mind, but even she was difficult to watch at times. I enjoyed my reading experience of the play and just wished I could have had an equally pleasant viewing experience.

Are there any film adaptations of classic plays that you actually enjoy? Is it hard for you to read plays? Maybe if there had been a better adaptation, it would be fine, but in this case, the book remains better than the movie, like always. Maybe one day I’ll see a good adaptation. If you know of one, please let me know, so I can erase those two hours of that movie from my memory.

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