When you attempt to adapt a William Shakespeare you are taking your film life into your hands. It goes without saying that Shakespeare is a legend. Especially in his home country of England. So, if you are English and decide to do it then you will have all eyes on you making sure you do the bard’s material justice. In 1993 Kenneth Branagh did just that. Being an accomplished theatre actor himself and British gave him a leg up. Having Emma Thompson as your wife gives you another boost. Plus, he was wise enough to assemble a very talented ensemble cast. Material, vision and talent. He had it all.
The heroes return triumphant. Led by Don Pedro (Denzel Washington – Fences, American Gangster), they stop at the estate of Leonato (Richard Briers – Peter Pan – 2003, Spice World) and upon their arrival and from every moment since there is never a dull moment. Much of that is due to the conflict between brothers – Don Pedro and Don John (Keanu Reeves – John Wick, The Matrix). Don John is jealous of the power and leadership of his older brother. Behind his back with the help of a couple of the men he plots his revenge.
Hero (Kate Beckinsale – Pearl Harbor, The Aviator), the young daughter of Leonato, has fallen in love with one of Don Pedro’s men, Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard – Dead Poet’s Society, The Last Days of Disco). They are to be married. The entire estate is amped up about the upcoming nuptials. That is except for Don John, who is going to do his best to put a spoke in the wheel.
In the meantime, Don Pedro is doing his own plotting involving the confirmed bachelor Benedick (Kenneth Branagh – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, My Week With Marilyn) and the prickly Beatrice (Emma Thompson – Sense and Sensibility, Love, Actually). To say the least, love (and laughs) is in the air.
A romantic romp like few others. You have to have cajones to even think of attempting this. Then pulling it off?!? Wow! My hat goes off to actor/director Kenneth Branagh. He even had the bold idea of meshing a British and American cast. Branagh, Thompson, Beckinsale, Imelda Staunton (Maleficent, Vera Drake), Phyllida Law (The Winter Guest, Nanny McPhee), and Briers are representing the Brits while Washington, Reeves (though he is Canadian), Leonard, and Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman) representing this continent.
While this is not thought of as Shakespeare’s best work, it is still a rich romantic comedy that is better than much of what is out there. Branagh’s adaptation does manage to showcase the strongest moments. The best moments feature the director and his real life wife (at the time), Thompson. With their ability with tricky language the delightful back and forth bantering between Beatrice and Benedick flows like honey. In the hands (or mouths) of these two masters the dialogue seems fresh, funny and modern.
Filmed on an estate in Tuscany, the film looks fantastic. Lush, green and eye catching. Then there is that sunlight in Tuscany, which is almost a character in itself.
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-Other Great MGM Releases