There is a certain degree of irony in this review of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing which is just that; the reviewer complains at length about the bare-bones nature of the production and the lack of interpretation over mere presentation (i.e., modern dress without modern sensibilities).
I seriously doubt the reviewer would have had quite the same issues with the setting simplicity if this had been a staged production rather than a filmed production, and it is important to remember that Shakespeare’s plays were written for the stage, not the screen.
As to modern interpretation and sensibilities, I largely think this is impossible without a complete rewrite of the play into another project all-together and most particularly in the case of the comedies. Take, for example, the movie 10 Things I Hate About You as a modern interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.
The tragedies so better lend themselves to simple modern reinvention by simply changing the uniforms of the many and varied soldiery or political figures. As an example, I give you House of Cards, which to me is a retelling of Richard III with a soupcon of Othello for flavour.
And let’s face it, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the more frivolous and playful of Shakespeare’s comedies…it is play for the sake of play. It offers no deep meaning but instead centres on the silliness of love; a topic that will remain universal for all time.
Which brings me to the biggest challenge I have with this review.
The reviewer seems to assume that Whedon meant for this to be anything more than a lark…but Whedon being Whedon, a lark that he filmed with very good friends who happen to be very good actors.
I know as little as the reviewer, but I have every reason to believe the choice of modern dress was simply the reality of not having racks of Renaissance costumes lying around the house. The choice of black & white cinematography was perhaps an homage to the screwball comedies of yesteryear, of which this play is truly one and possibly the most yester of yesteryears.
As you can probably tell, I liked the movie…I had few expectations other than laughter and those were met. I also liked Kenneth Branagh’s version, which really only differed in multiple sets, colour film and period costume.