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Much Ado About Nothing

"What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?" Act I, scene i

Written: 1599

BBC TV ; November 7, 2005 (Film)
Starring :
Reviewed on : 2006-11-21 02:44:05 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry

Sarah Parish and Damien Lewis<BR>Photo Credit:<a href=
This dramatic television version of Shakespeare's beloved play starts out weak, and ends strong. The idea behind the series of Shakespeare Retold dramas (which included this production, Taming, Macbeth and Dream) that were aired last year on BBC was to update and modernize the play for a 21st century audience while at the same time capturing the spirit (and the best one-liners).

This film works on many levels. It works for those who don't know Shakespeare (or very little) but just want to have fun. It works better for those who not only know the play, but have the words in their head. One perfect example: when Benedick and Beatrice meet on the set again after years of not saying each other, he greets her with, "Are you still around?" instead of the immortal "What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?" This provokes a chuckle of outraged laughter from the Shakespeareholics in the audience.

Because of the modernization, major changes were made: some minor changes that could be quibbled over and one rather major one that feels almost more right than Shakespeare's original.

Let's start with the small stuff: Beatrice and Benedick are news anchors in a small TV network in Wessex. Hero is the weather girl, Claud some bizarre kind of anchorman. Don (Don John) is the director who gets fired, and Peter (Don Pedro) replaces him. No one likes Don because he drinks, is bad at his job. Hero feels sorry for him however, because all of this is because his wife left him. She gives him a pity shag, and, being a sociopath, he starts stalking her and wanting more even though she has made it clear that they are just friends. One of the more interesting, but textual supportable, changes is the fact that B&B had a relationship three years before and he left her for London. Although never clearly stated in the text, it is obvious that the two of them have had a long association and critics often point to this "over-familiarity" as proof that the two were once romantic.

Now, for the big stuff: the ending. Radically, great liberties with the spirit and the text are taken when it comes to the wedding scene and its aftermath, and the changes are ones I heartily approve of. Instead of just standing there and taking it, Hero actually verbally fights back, but then is too disappointed in Claud's ability to believe the worst in her to offer any further defense. She just walks out. She confronts Don later about why he would do such a thing to her, and it degenerates into a fight where she ends up pushed to the ground and hits her head on a column. Here is the part which mirrors the "death" scene in the original text. Hero slips into a coma, Claud comes to her bedside and asks her to forgive him and she wakes up. One might expect at this point for her to forgive him and marry him. After all, there must be a second wedding (according to Shakespeare) and society expects the marriage to be the happy ending. Gloriously, Hero tells Claud that she will never marry him. He asks her to give him some hope that maybe in the future they can get together. She doesn't answer (there we have it both ways: the romantics can believe that after he has atoned enough, they will marry, and the pessimists can believe that nothing he can do will ever atone enough). Cut to "years later", where Claud is practicing a speech in a wedding suit at Benedick's wedding. The second wedding required by comedies and happy endings is actually Beatrice and Benedick's, where, again gloriously, they start laughing at the altar because they can't actually figure out how they got there.

The acting was above par, especially for Sarah Parish as the divine Beatrice. She is beautiful, intelligent, and a lionness. Her Benedick (played ably by Damian Lewis) is just a bit stupider than she is. The supporting cast, especially Derek Riddell as the vilely slimy Don, and Billie Piper (of Doctor Who fame) round out the show well.

Here's the one-liner: although tepidity marked the beginning, the boiling water by the end made a remarkable splash!

Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Beatrice and Benedick

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