Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 280. Thursday, 6 May 1993.
Date: Thursday, 6 May 93 13:47:34 EDT
Subject: Re Branagh's *Ado*
This is my second posting, but the first didn't count since it was merely
an announcement of the first Canadian screening of Branagh's *Ado.*
So now it's time for me to screw up my courage and state how I felt
about the film. I should start off by saying that as a Shakespeare
enthusiast of fairly recent vintage I've never seen *Ado* staged and
never formally studied it. I have read it a few times, however, and
have seen the BBC Time-Life version (circa 1980) which I highly
Branagh's *Ado* was admirable, hugely so, but was it all that
recommendable? Not really, except for some wonderful visuals,
including the great airborne shot of the wedding festivities at the
close. I felt a bit cheated, glad it was done but wish it hadn't been quite
so adulterated. In broad terms, the problem IMHO was simply that it
was played for laughs rather than for subtler comic thrills and chills.
Slapstick again triumphs over magic in the great world of popular
entertainment. To borrow a term from television, Branagh's *Ado*
was strictly prime time.
As someone who loved Branagh's *Henry V* maybe I was expecting
too much. I thought we were about to go over the top this time
but it didn't turn out that way. In *Henry V* I felt as if I could have
followed Branagh into any breach at any time, but there was
nothing mesmerizing about *Ado.* Branagh's Renaissance Italy was
not Shakespeare's, and the horror surrounding Hero's supposed "lack
of virtue" simply would not exist in the kind of world Branagh has
set up here. In such a lusty, sweaty, rustic world as Branagh portrays,
there could have been nothing fatal about the trick played on
Claudio. And in the absence of Shakespeare's Eden-like dreamworld,
Don John becomes merely another "melancholy malcontent"
instead of the horrendous and incomprehensible snake in the
grass we need and deserve.
Michael Keaton's portrayal of Dogberry was ridiculously self-
indulgent. If it was at all meaningful to anyone else, well I'm
afraid it went over my head. (As did Paul Budra's thoughtful
comment on Keaton's role in an earlier posting.) Dogberry's role
is a demanding one, a congenial buffoon with a heartbreaking sense
of integrity and courage, the direct opposite of Falstaff, but
Keaton's portrayal was unsympathetic, even contemptuous.
Denzel Washington was a refreshing and competent Don Pedro,
but might not Eddie (*Beverly Hills Cop*) Murphy have put a more
interesting spin on the role of Don John, with a lot of evil
grimacing and mugging rather than Keanu Reeves' unremittingly
shallow and dimwitted pout.
Also there seemed to be a lot of minor--but irritating--problems
in the editing department. Some of the scenes were insufficiently
thought out and some of the peripheral players insufficiently
directed. And why does Hero have to be bashed about so viciously?
This sort of superfluous violence against women happens so often
in movies lately that it's getting hard to discount the cynical notion
that it's thought to be good box office.
I certainly hope this movie doesn't become a kind of standard for
film versions of Shakespeare in the future. If so, something of
great value will have been lost.