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Watching this 148 minute highly professional BBC production cannot but
warm the heart of any Shakespeare appreciator. The beautiful and witty
Cherie Lunghi is a properly shrewish yet desirable Beatrice, and she is
the greatest boon of this production.
This version, due to its length (I always appreciate using the full text), is divided up into two parts, and part one can sometimes become a little dull. BBC's Complete Works of Shakespeare seems to be made so as to honor Shakespeare's language more than the performing of his drama, and I cannot fault them for this, since I, too, ultimately consider the plays more literature than theater. But BBC's chosen actors and actresses are so consummately professional, clear-speaking and well-rehearsed that this becomes far more than mere recital (unlike, for instance, the dull Kevin Kline version of Hamlet). And in terms of animated and emotional acting, part two of this production more than makes up for whatever shortcomings in this department part one may have had. The wedding scene with Claudio's shaming of Hero was played intensely dramatically, and clearly the best sequence of this production.
I was also greatly impressed with the immensely well-crafted stage sets.
Today, however, this version does come across as slightly old-fashioned, or at least traditional. It cannot measure up to Branagh's movie version, which in this reviewer's opinion is one of the few perfect movies of any kind ever made. Its visuals underscore the beauty of the words, and the formidable chemistry between all the actors is clear as day. Even the text cuts are largely justified, as most of what was cut was not important for the action. A more definitive version can scarcely be made.
So the BBC version receives a 9 out of 10 from me. While it seemed textually complete, there were actually a few bits missing. For instance, when Claudio says of Hero, "Can the world buy such a jewel?", for some reason they neglected to include Benedick's reply, "Yea, and a case to put it into!", which is a pretty important line as it, among other things, prefigures Hero's apparent death and thus her placement in a coffin (= casket = case).
I have only seen these two Much Ado productions, BBC's and Branagh's (well, and the 2005 Shakespeare Retold version, but that was not anywhere near this league), but I am greatly looking forward to seeing other productions, which I hope I will have the opportunity to.
An afficianado but not expert on Shakespeare, this production was my introduction to "Much Ado About Nothing". I found it a sheer delight. So much so that I fell into the production and it seemed it was over after barely starting. Normally with Shakespeare one seems to maintain a distance whilst mentally translating the old English prose/rhyme but that wasn't necessary with this play. The sets are adequate but we must remember that this is a film of a stage version. It's the acting that makes it so exhilerating. Lunghi is nothing short of stupendous, speaking the lines with great wit, clarity and effect. Lindsay is admirable as her foil and indeed matches her line for line. I would recommend this play/production for anyone who needs an introduction to Shakespeare. For those who are familiar with the bard, they will find this rendition a delight, and far superior to that inadequate, emacerated film version by Branagh.
As most of the other comments point out this is an excellent and
faithful performance, to the text and to the period. It is theatrical
rather than cinematic, as with virtually all of this BBC complete
Shakespeare, rendering comparison with the Branagh futile - it is
comparing chalk and cheese.
Here, the comedy is brilliantly rendered, with several laugh-out-loud moments and enjoyably over the top acting. It is particularly fun to see Robert Lindsay at the masque - his movements of body and head are so characteristic of him that he is extremely easy to recognise even in his mask.
However, none of the comments so far have mentioned what for me is the stand-out performance of the play, Vernon Dobtcheff's Don John. This is an excellent, understated expression of pure villainy, snake-like, ruthless and sly, counterpointing the exuberant comedy elsewhere perfectly.
Lindsay and Lunghi bring to light previously unknown facets to the two well-known characters of Benedict and Beatrice, and have a kind of sympatico that makes their sudden love for each other more believable than is generally found in other versions of Much Ado. They are bolstered by a marvelous supporting cast. This production far exceeds Branagh's film version in acting, but suffers when the production values are compared, an unfair comparison since Branagh had the luxury of actually making a film on location while this BBC edition is a teleplay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really enjoyed the Kenneth Branagh version of "Much Ado About
Nothing" and I was sorry to miss the recent RSC production, so I
thought I would have a look at this one and see another take on one of
Shakespeare's more popular comedies.
Robert Lindsay certainly has the wit, panache and energy to make a really good Benedick and he's matched by the beautiful and sparkling Cherie Lunghie as Beatrice. Katherine Levy certainly makes the most of Hero, turning in a very strong and forthright portrayal of what is an underwritten and rather weak character. Jon Finch plays Don Pedro as an arrogant lord who enjoys his scheming and gossiping. It is a good portrayal, but I missed the compassion of Denzel Washington in the same role.
Micheal Elphick certainly makes a plausible and by-and-large comprehensible Dogberry, though I thought he could have done more with the character's malapropisms to get more humour out of the character.
This version uses much more of the original text than the popular movie, so the pace is somewhat slower, and now and again the period setting looks a little bit tacky.
That said, lovers of Shakespearean comedy should find little wrong with this.
Robert Lindsay is an excellent Benedick, punchy and precise in word,
action and emotion. Cherie Lunghi finds less variation in her Beatrice,
but is nonetheless quite good.
Jon Finch camps outrageously as Don Pedro, delivering his lines in frank imitation of Sir Laurence Olivier at his giddiest. How did this apparent party turn wind up in here? But it does not distract from the progress of the play.
The rest of the cast is fine and the whole affair moves at a reasonable pace. The physical production is beautiful to the eye, inspired by the finest Italian Renaissance painters. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Enter this comedy with the image of the devil in mind. It is a
diabolical tale of unrequited and unpunished treachery. But fate has it
so that good prevails over the evil of that treacherous bastard brother
of the prince.
This 1599 comedy is a satire of people who cannot hold their tongues and think that wit is all the best when it is cruel. Beatrice and Benedick have it quite right when they wittingly say: "BEATRICE A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours. BENEDICK. I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer." The tongues of those witty young and not so young people are animals, wild and fast, and remember fast leads to quick and no one likes being hurt to the quick by some witty retort.
And they all know how bad a tongue can be when it becomes multiple. As Don Pedro says: "'Nay,' said I, 'he hath the tongues.' 'That I believe' said she, 'for he swore a thing to me on Monday night, which he forswore on Tuesday morning: there's a double tongue; there's two tongues.'" And then that kind of multiple tongue can become the worst weapon you can imagine. And don't believe Cupid can be better with his tongue. "He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks." That clapper makes more noise and damage than the arrow of Cupid.
And Hero is slandered by the brother of the local prince and Claudio she was going to marry rejects her publicly in front of the friar who was to marry them. She faints in the process and the friar dissimulates the fainting into an announced death caused by the slandering and the grief. Few are in the secret that Antonio, Hero's uncle, sums up as follows: "Content yourself. God knows I lov'd my niece; / And she is dead, slander'd to death by villains, / That dare as well answer a man indeed / As I dare take a serpent by the tongue. / Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!" The father Leonato and his brother will force thus Claudio and the Prince to shame themselves and repent their crime. All the more because at this moment two ruffians who had been arrested during the night and tried in the morning are brought to the Prince and just as they had done with the judge, they do not hold their tongues and they spill out the whole truth about the bastard brother of the Prince financing them heftily to set up the fake nightly rendez-vous of Hero with some man.
Then on the following evening and in the night Claudio and the prince make penance for Hero's death at the funeral monument of her family. And Claudio hangs there his written epitaph to Hero. "Done to death by slanderous tongues / Was the Hero that here lies: / Death, in guerdon of her wrongs, / Gives her fame which never dies. / So the life that died with shame / Lives in death with glorious fame." We know of course better and Shakespeare can finish up on the following morning with a "masque" of his own to present to Claudio who had accepted, Hero's cousin Beatrice he is supposed to marry as a punishment, and her personality is not exactly a gift of God. But the masks enable Claudio to marry Hero and discover her real identity when all is said. That enables then Benedick to marry Beatrice who he loves though she has the witty tongue of a viper. Another serpent who will be tamed like any shrew that Shakespeare put on the stage.
The bastard brother of the Prince will not be punished and we don't even know what happens to him, and who cares. The genius of this production is that the rhythm is really good and sustained as brisk from beginning to end. Then the artificiality of the situation and successive events are like some variations on themes we have already seen or met, like the false death of the girl (Romeo and Juliet), the ceremony in the family funeral monument (Romeo and Juliet but also Hamlet and Ophelia's burial, not to speak of Cleopatra's death) and many others. Of course we have two weddings (quite a common event in Shakespeare's plays though it is not enough to bring Juno down like in A Midsummer Night's Dream where there are four couples united or reunited at the same time.
This is probably the best part about this long trip of mine through Shakespeare's thirty-two plays. We find some themes and motifs, and every single time something comes back again, there is a variation on that something that makes it different. With a few ideas Shakespeare created a whole constellation of variations. He is a real dramatic jazzman of the stage.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
Saw it 21 years ago, and still remember it as fabulous. Lindsay and
Lunghi are delightful. it's work like this that really shows why Auntie
Beeb is a national (international) treasure. OK, so I'm a refugee
Limey, but why is it that American TV can't produce anything even a
tiny fraction as good as this?
I really don't have too much to say about the production itself, since I saw it so long ago. It's just that I have such a wonderful, warm memory of it.
Incidentally, I like the Branagh production. Just rented it to watch this evening, as a matter of fact, to get a bit of a bard fix. But if my local video rental shop had offered the BBC version, I'd have grabbed that one instead in a flash.
Lunghi and Lindsay are the savory core of this handsomely done comedy. They make it divinely clear that conflicts of the heart far outweigh a mere war of wit and word. Beatrice and Benedick open before our eyes with beauteous ambivalence. At first brittle and glib and tightly closed, they are drawn together by conspiratory deceit, which acts only to release the truth of their emotional vulnerability and allow them to find what they dared not wish for; the perfect mate. A very thoughtful and nuanced version of the play.
I concur with the predominantly favorable assessments of this
production that have already been posted. Robert Lindsay and Cherie
Lunghi are both excellent, and Katharine Levy is likewise outstanding
in the role of Hero. Robert Reynolds (presumably intentionally) makes
clear how repellent Claudio is, as he delivers a fine performance in
that difficult role. Jon Finch emphasizes the silly and decadent
dimension of the role of Don Pedro, in a capable performance that could
have been enriched with a bit more gravitas. Michael Elphick is far,
far better -- far, far funnier -- in the role of Dogberry than was
Michael Keaton in Kenneth Branagh's cinematic version of the play.
My only complaint relates to Graham Crowden in the role of Friar Francis. He conveys the impression of not having memorized his part very well; his intonation in his recitation of some of his key lines is decidedly odd.
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