Like Shakespeare? Read this post. Hate Shakespeare? Read this post. Think Shakespeare is only for pretentious nerds and weirdo theater people? Read this post. 🙂
As children, my siblings and I watched Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing multiple times. The movie delighted us, although the Shakespearean language was certainly “greek” to us, all subtle (or not-so-subtle) innuendos flying straight over our intrigued heads. In determining why we loved the movie so, I picked out at least three aspects that overcame our language and context barriers.
First, the music, composed by Patrick Doyle, evokes a simple, sleepy feel, at times swelling to climaxes of ridiculously heroic proportions. Second, the scenery matches the score’s mood perfectly, showcasing vineyards in quiet, sunny afternoons, the gardeners all dressed in simple garb and perfectly happy in their work. Most of all, though, we felt the mood of Shakespeare, a mood expressed through Branagh’s supplementation of a particular scene. The scene that really sticks out comes right after Benedick and Beatrice have each been fooled into thinking the other is desperately in love with them.
We, as viewers, have left Benedick in the garden with a huge grin on his face, and have switched to Beatrice’s reconciliation with the idea. More than reconciliation, Beatrice expresses her ecstasy by grabbing a garden swing and flying back and forth in the sunlight. Then, as the music swells, we see Benedick, still in his part of the garden, splashing around the once-sleepy, green fountain. The fountain pool is frothy now, churned into a lively blue, as Benedick kicks and flings the water out of its container. There are no words, the characters having talked incessantly up to this point, and what remains is their pure, exuberant joy. We see Beatrice smile up into the sun, her simple white dress glowing; and at the same time we see Benedick practically dancing around the fountain pool, getting his uniform sopping wet—gloriously wet. The music crescendos, signaling to the mature viewer that this, not the misunderstanding between Hero and Claudio, is the focus of the movie. While Benedick and Beatrice’s situation is still a misunderstanding, it is a happy one, and more worthy of our attention.
I suppose what impresses me most, now that I’ve grown and read Shakespeare for myself, is how Branagh deepens our understanding of the characters through non-verbal action. Shakespeare did a wonderful job of conveying the slightly-ridiculous relationship between two overly-clever individuals, and yet it is easy, if one is not careful, to read Benedick and Beatrice’s lines and imagine only two talking heads—two awfully-witty people who always have something to say.
To think that there might come a moment where they have no more words, where they can only act out their happiness, whether on a swing or in a fountain, lends the characters a weight of being that might not be there otherwise. Suddenly, Beatrice and Benedick are not just the witty couple with a steady supply of wisecracks, but are fragile, hopeful humans who find they have been wrong, and are delighted by the discovery.
Perhaps this last observation is no surprise to Shakespeare enthusiasts, but for Branagh to have made clear the mood, even to young, bewildered children like my siblings and myself, is quite a feat. If nothing else, seeing the movie fueled my interest in the real play, and neither has disappointed me since.