If you’re sitting there thinking ‘Joss who?’ you’re probably not alone, but Joss Whedon is the reason I was never able to take the Twilight series of books and movies seriously. Because Whedon is the man behind the 1990s TV hit show Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy would have kicked Edward Cullen’s arse. Don’t believe me? Someone made it happen), as well as spinoff show Angel; cult sci-fi shows Firefly and Dollhouse; and the trope-tastic horror movie The Cabin in the Woods. He’s been involved with a number of other big name movies as well, but what I didn’t know, until very recently, is that in 2012 he adapted for the screen, produced, and directed a movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
I found out about this movie completely by accident: I was staying with my sister and her husband, both massive movie buffs, when I happened to wander into the living room and hear some distinctly Shakespearian dialogue. Glancing at the telly I saw three characters filmed in black and white but dressed in contemporary clothes sitting around a modern kitchen sipping wine and discussing the female character (Hero’s) upcoming marriage to Claudio. “What is this?” I asked.
There are two ways of answering that: one is to say that it’s a no-budget, just-for-fun project that Whedon filmed in twelve days with a bunch of his mates in his family home in Santa Monica. The other is to say that it’s the most comprehensible, most enjoyable, most perfectly made Shakespeare adaptation that I’ve ever seen. Move over, Baz Luhrmann.
The secret, I think, is in the skill of everyone involved. Shakespeare was an excellent writer who knew what his audience wanted (in this case, a hint of sex, a dash of intrigue, and a lot of laughs). Whedon is an amazing writer and director who could see how to turn a play written for the seventeenth century stage into a twenty-first century movie. And the actors involved, many of whom had been involved in other Whedon projects, were able to deliver seventeenth century dialogue not only naturally but with all the colour of tone, inflection, timing and facial expression (something to which a movie does much greater justice than a play) that was necessary to turn the sometimes-incomprehensible into the completely-comprehensible.
Particular highlights for me were Beatrice (Amy Acker from Angel and Dollhouse) taking a dive behind a kitchen cabinet to eavesdrop on Hero and Ursula (who know perfectly well that she’s there), and Nathan Fillion (Firefly and, more recently, Castle) as the comic constable Dogberry, here reimagined as a no-less-comic detective. Sean Maher, who I was completely unable to stop thinking of as Simon from Firefly, projected a wonderful air of malice and menace as the scheming Don John.
I could go on, but I won’t. My only regret is that I missed the start, it was too late to go back and re-watch it from the beginning, and my sister (who had to order the DVD from overseas) flat out refused to lend it to me. If you have the opportunity to watch this movie, particularly if you’re new to Shakespeare or wanting to introduce someone to his work, go for it.