Joss Whedon’s contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing is an inventive and witty take on the material. Shot in just 12 days in the director’s own home in L.A with a selection of his closest friends, this is a true passion project that fans will delight in.
The play is essentially about two pairs of lovers. Beatrice (Angel’s Amy Acker) and Benedick (Angel’s Alexis Denisof) are caught up in a ‘merry war’, endlessly bickering but with a sexual tension they can’t ignore. Meanwhile, Benedick’s friend Claudio has fallen for Hero (Jillian Morgese), the only daughter of Don Leonato (The Avenger’s Clark Gregg) and plans to marry her. Both couples fall into the pitfalls of love; lies, infidelity and deception.
So far, so Shakespeare. But nothing is to be expected in this production, as we are welcomed into Whedon’s weird and wonderful world. Whedon has described the film as “the sexiest thing I’ve ever done, and that includes having sex,” and it certainly does heat up the 16th century prose, but there are also a lot of stylistic elements to be enjoyed, including the decision to make the film black and white.
The acting from all the players is outstanding, many of whom have never performed Shakespeare before. In particular, Nathan Fillion (Firefly) was on the charm offensive again, and brought in the laughs with his performance as wisecracking detective Dogberry. Fillion manages to make himself the star of the show with only a few lines to work with by using physical comedy and some excellent timing. It is surprising that this was his first time acting Shakespeare. He has said: “I was really working hard to get a grip on the lines. They do start to make sense after a while. You’re like, ‘Ahhhh. It’s just flowery and a little bit like Yoda.’ Once you like that in, you’re gold.”
But Whedon’s biggest success is his ability to put his fingerprints on a screenplay that is entirely Shakespeare’s, and make it current. By making the material widely assessable, he is not only doing undergraduates a great service, but he has also made something that a lot of people who usually sit at home watching repeats of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly will tune in to.
Some will say this is an unusual choice for Whedon, who last year directed the summer blockbuster The Avengers, However, Whedon has confessed that he has always been a lover of Shakespeare and colossal his fan base allows him a creative carte blanche. Keeping the tone light and humourous, Much Ado is Shakespeare as it was meant to be.