Much Ado – Paris International Film Festival 2022 – Film Review

Much Ado takes its name from the renowned play Much Ado About Nothing, which is one of the Shakespearean comedies which has wit and expression at its core. Whilst the play may reference the matters of the heart involving two cousins, Hero and Beatrice, and their respective love interests, there is also some very engaging, razor-sharp dialogue to be found between the sparring former lovers Beatrice and Benedick. This new film version transports the play from sunny Messina to a party for the local rugby team in the UK countryside for an updated coming of age perspective. 

Much Ado’s concept therefore sounds reminiscent of the French Film L’Esquive whereby historical plays are interpreted by a younger generation. This approach allows the relevance of such plays to remain intact whilst reaching new audiences. Similarly, Much Ado’s central themes of distrust and underlying misogyny remain universal and are connected to that uncertainty of turbulent emotions as a teenager.

Much Ado is the second feature, the first being the brilliant Soundtrack to Sixteen, from the Shakespeare Sisters team, as a homage to their favourite Shakespeare play, which once more captures that angst of youth. The film includes the nuances of an English setting but equally blends current inventions such as contraception with those historical references to being cuckolded. Such knowing juxtaposition does provide an amusing quality to the film.

Much Ado remains faithful to the structure of the original play, for the most part, with its comedy of errors and matchmaking.  However, it is unfortunate that the sense of blame placed on a woman and the degree of misogyny from the play still resonates today. What is a noticeable difference in this version, with the insight from a female lens, is the greater emphasis placed on the villainy of Don Pedro and how instrumental he may also be in the distrust directed towards Hero and her honour. This reflects some outmoded societal views that have unfortunately remained concerning the need for women to have outwardly chaste appearances.

Jody Larcombe as Hero in Much Ado
Jody Larcombe as Hero in Much Ado

The film loses some of its dramatic tension with the removal of a wartime setting, there are just no well-fitting sword holding costumes to be seen! In other film versions, it is this presence of soldiers that adds to the smouldering effect of the passion between the characters combined with the sense of loss, betrayal and basic villainy for the sake of it, that is at the forefront of the play. That said, the Shakespeare Sisters version of Much Ado does successfully embody the wit for which the play is renowned, in spite of its darker themes exploring the darkness of the human heart and fickle characteristics as depicted through Claudio. 

Much Ado, with its modern-day lens forces an inward analysis into a reliance on appearances and carefully staged scenes that remains relevant. Again, this poses those questions towards the current day fascination with carefully curated images and personas and the rapid manner in which someone’s virtue, reputation and honour may be besmirched.

The Shakespeare Sisters continue this imagery concept with the literal framing of images to convey a particular aesthetic.  The film’s cinematography is outstanding. That sense of merriment is captured within several scenes resembling still life paintings of feasts with the presence of sumptuous wine and food to celebrate the rugby team’s arrival.  Other scenes of a painterly nature equally impress with heartbreaking visuals containing medieval, haunting imagery of ghostly white clothing floating on a lake. Such scenes are striking, breathtakingly beautiful and reminiscent of the Ophelia painting by the German artist Friedrich Heyser. The Shakespeare Sisters’ vision and attention to detail in such scenes is therefore mesmerising to behold. It is pleasing to view their bold directorial choices in Much Ado which demonstrate their directorial progression and development which will bode well in their filmmaking journey.

The Shakespeare Sisters’ skilful direction of the cast is another aspect that will appeal.  Hero’s father Leonato played by Peter Saracen is particularly impressive in depicting this scorn towards his daughter with a formidable performance. Indeed, Toby Wynn Davies as his brother, Antonio, also conveys that sense of authoritative protection in defending Hero’s honour.

The film’s truly standout performance is by Emma Beth Jones playing Beatrice. She radiates when delivering the witty repartee against an inexpressive Benedick. She may be described as a younger version of Emma Thompson’s Beatrice as she graces the screen exuding merriment and steals all scenes in which she appears. She is a delight to watch and hopefully there may be more occasions to watch Jones’ comedic flair on the big screen.

This modern-day interpretation of Much Ado truly appears to be Beatrice’s film which is no doubt assisted by the captivating lead, Emma Beth Jones and the use of the female lens. Whilst the film’s interaction between the modern-day inventions and the retention of the original Shakespearean dialogue may initially seem jarring, these elements work well to convey a good level of humour throughout the film. Much Ado may not offer any revolutionary changes but its aesthetically pleasing cinematography and the insertion of comedic effects will certainly keep audiences entertained.

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