Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

benedick and beatriceThis week I’ve been spending a lot of time lying on my sofa recovering from my operation and have been too tired to do anything, including read. After dozing through way too much daytime TV my soul was beginning to feel rotten so I decided to see if there were any films I wanted to see via the Virgin Box, and lo and behold, there was Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (my absolute favourite Shakespeare play, seriously, I can recite almost all of it with a bit of prompting) which I’ve been wanting to watch for ages.

I’m a bit of a Whedon geek, though I didn’t realise exactly how much until I watched this film (hello Wesley, hello Fred, hello Agent Coulson) and I was initially concerned that I was too familiar with the actors’ other work with Whedon to really believe in their portrayals of the characters I know and love but my fears proved unfounded and I thought it was amazing.

The first thing that really impressed me was that from the very beginning of the film Whedon did something that most director’s don’t and made the hints that Beatrice gives about her previous romantic relationship with Benedick explicit for the modern audience. For example, the film starts with Benedick sneaking out of bed as Beatrice sleeps, clearly some time in the past, and foreshadows Beatrice’s line “You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old” beautifully. Having said that, portraying it as an overtly sexual relationship makes it harder for the viewer to accept Claudio’s reaction to the “reveal” of Hero’s “disloyalty” later in the film, so this divergent approach is a little problematic but, regardless of that, kudos for highlighting this- it’s something a lot of directors seem to disregard and I think it’s crucial to the audience’s understanding of the root of their “merry war”, which is obviously anything but.

I hate the moment in which Hero is disgraced in Much Ado so much it feels like I’m going to break out in hives, but I admired the way Whedon had Leonarto, played by Agent Coulson Clark Gregg, portray this moments with shades of grey- obvious tenderness for his daughter among the shock and horrific lines that his character speaks. This is a really problematic moment in any modern adaptation of Shakespeare, but I think they handled it as well as they possibly could have done given that it’s a feminist’s nightmare and I like to think that Whedon would have given this due consideration. He is, after all the guy who gave Buffy this kick ass line

In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

I digress. The thing that really gets me through Hero’s first wedding is the character of Dogberry, played to absolute perfection by that creepy priest Caleb Nathan Fillion who absolutely stole the show with his acting. I was really impressed by how convincingly the Watch could be played as a modern American cop drama scenario without it seeming jarring or incredibly anachronistic. In fact, for me, this was the most impressive moment in the film. See a snippet of Dogberry and co. here:

I was surprised when reading the trivia section on IMDB that apart from the abridgments (which sadly saw Beatrice’s line about being “overmaster’d with a piece of valiant dust?” being cut) Joss Whedon had changed only one line in the play which was from “if I do not love her, I am a Jew” to “if I do not love her, I am a fool.” On the one hand, I can completely understand why he did this, but I did think it was strange that he let this line lie but retained Claudio’s “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.” Shakespeare is full of huge amounts of language and Elizabethan attitudes which are totally appalling to a modern-day audience, but by changing a line to avoid antisemitism, and letting an explicitly racist line lie I think that you create a problematic environment in which you either need to be totally true to the text or clean up the play completely.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Shakespeare and any Whedon fans who have yet to whole heartedly embrace the bard. The official trailer is below.

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