Branagh's Interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare's wonderful comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, is an entertaining tale of the trials and tribulations of two pairs of lovers, who must face and overcome both malicious schemes plotted against them and also their own flaws and shortcomings before finding happiness together. Although clearly a comedy, the play is not without its darker moments. Don John plots to ruin Claudio's marriage; he nearly succeeds because Claudio, and most of the other men in the play, are too quick to judge Hero (and women in general) as innately deceitful. Naturally, true love wins through in the end, as the plot is exposed and foiled and Hero and Claudio are happily wed. Joining them at the altar are Beatrice and Benedick, the sharp-tongued pair who have (thanks to a little friendly intervention) discovered the mutual admiration previously hidden beneath their sarcasm.
It is possible for the director of a film based on the play to interpret the text in many ways. One option, for example, would be to emphasize the similarities between the deception perpetrated by Don John and that of the more friendly conspirators, and thus paint a darker picture of the intent and actions of those attempting to unite Beatrice and Benedick. Another treatment might instead choose to focus upon the differences between the two deceptions. The topic of Benedick and Beatrice's love for each other can be handled differently as well. Perhaps one director might portray this love as being created by the conspirators' acting, might portray Beatrice and Benedick as two proud individuals tricked into loving each other. Alternatively, another director could shoot the same scenes to show Benedick and Beatrice's love as arising from a mutual respect and admiration for one another, merely encouraged by the staged deceptions. The choice in both scenes is essentially between a pessimistic and an optimistic interpretation of the play. The choices must be consistent; how the deception of Beatrice and Benedick is understood plays a significant role in how their love is interpreted. Was it created by the calculating manipulations of the conspirators, or already present and merely encouraged to express itself through the harmless prank? Kenneth Branagh's film focuses upon the inherent joy and happiness in the play; he shies away from darker interpretations and carefully clarifies the innocence of the deceptions perpetrated by the conspirators, while portraying Beatrice and Benedick as two lovers eager to become worthy of each other who were united by mutual admiration, not merely through the machinations of their friends.
Within the text of the play Branagh finds many contrasts between the deception of Beatrice and Benedick and that of Claudio and Don Pedro. The innocent deceptions of the conspirators who attempt to bring Beatrice and Benedick together differ from the malicious schemes of Don John both in the motivations of the...