Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese
Written by William Shakespeare and (adapted) Joss Whedon
Running Time: 107 mins
Release date: 14th June 2013
If there are two things that are almost certain to be the kiss of death as far as modern day cinema goers would consider: Shakespeare and black and white film. So it’s a brave director to take a Shakespeare play and film it in black and white. When that director is Joss Whedon, still riding high on the enormous success of last year’s biggest movie, The Avengers, he can do whatever he wants. So armed with his buddies, taking his own home as the setting and filming it in 12 days during making the Marvel blockbuster, Whedon not only has made a hugely enjoyable version of one of my favourite plays but in the process, made Shakespeare more accessible and stamped upon every film that is out there.
Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro, who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.
Most people have trouble understanding Shakespeare’s often wordy language and there are moments when the actors also seem to struggle getting their tongue around the lines but what Whedon and his cast do is not to try too hard, meaning that in minutes of their conversation beginning, you forget they are talking in a verse. It becomes easy to allow the words to flow over you. Whedon also has the good sense of never letting there be time for flab and keeps the pace brisk and zipping along.
Filming around his own home, the setting becomes part of the cast and the various rooms and gardens are used to great effect (especially during the scenes in which the men are pretending to announce Beatrice’s love for Benedick and the same with the women). The cast also seem very relaxed around the different parts of the house.
The cast are perfect. If you are not a fan of Whedon and his work, you’d probably go in and appreciate the no-star cast. Whedon fans will get a lot out of recognising those who have appeared in his films or hit TV series. Amy Acker makes for a beautifully classy yet defiant Beatrice, turning on the drama when need to while handling the comedy with aplomb. Alexis Denisof, a regular in Angel, doesn’t look like the kind of man who can perform broad comedy but he does it magnificently, while still looking all chiseled and handsome, delivering a likeable Benedick. The pair are perfectly suited as the warring couple.
Clark Gregg manages to do what he did in The Avengers, steal the scenes he is in without even trying or, in some cases, not saying a word, as Leonardo, while Jillian Morgese and Fran Kranz make for a delightful Hero and Claudio. Just when you think this film can’t get any more enjoyable, enter Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. Comedy actors, please take note. this is how you do it. you come into a film half way through and you literally take it away from everyone else. His bumbling Police Officer is a performance that will stay with you for a very long time. I was reduced to tears of laughter. He won’t win any awards but he sure as hell deserves to.
I was a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version (which, ironically, I saw in the same cinema, in the same screen as this version). I think I have found a better version. If you want to see one of the most delightfully entertaining films this year so far, then I urge you to track it down (it has a very limited release, which is a crime). To the distributors and cinema chains…get this film out there for more people to see because this is, by far, the best thing around at the moment. Well done, Mr Whedon, you’ve done it again!