This Sunday at 10 p.m. -- yes, an hour later than we usually begin airing our Sunday night movie -- KCET is presenting the 1993 film version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." If your experience with this play ends with reading the text in high school, you're in for a treat, because director Kenneth Branagh translates "Ado" brilliantly to screen. But in case you're not persuaded by the promise of a joyous adaptation of one of English literature's greatest works, here are eight more reasons.
Nudity! Sort of. Yes, this is Shakespeare, but some people forget that the bard is bawdy as all hell. There's plenty of double entendre in "Ado," and Branagh's adaptation begins with more skin than you're used to seeing on KCET. It's not offensive, of course, but you'll be forgiven for expression a casual interest in which cast members sheds their clothes.
Some of the best bickering in literature. While the sexually charged back-and-forth dialogue in "The Taming of the Shrew" might have even more snap, the verbal fisticuffs performed by Benedick and Beatrice, this work's lead male and female characters, will make you laugh, even if you think you don't speak Shakespearese. Take Benedick backhanded praise of Beatrice's quick wit: "I would my horse had the speed of your tongue." ... Okay, well, it's funny when Branagh says it. But the chemistry between the lead characters most likely results from the actors playing them...
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, as they were. At the moment, Branagh is known for directing "Thor" and Thompson for playing... what, Nanny McPhee? Sybill Trelawney in "Harry Potter"? Twenty years ago, however, these two were a British power couple known for stellar period pieces. They've since divorced, but it's dazzling to watch them function as a unit once again.
Kate Beckinsale, pre-vampire era. There are young movie-goers out there who only know Beckinsale as that vampire lady who fights werewolves in the "Underworld" movies. However, she once didn't have to tangle the undead to get a paycheck. "Ado" marked her feature film debut, and it's a trip watching her play Hero, the sweet, naïve, virginal No. 2 female character. And she's not the only surprise here...
Keanu Reeves does Shakespeare! No, really. Yes, it's a pre-"Speed" Keanu starring as the plays villain, the heinous Don John. But a pre-"Speed" Keanu is also a post-"Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" Keanu, and people just casually aware of his film work might be surprised to know that "Ado" came in the middle. In fact, Keanu appeared in a handful of prestige literary adaptations earlier in his career, including "Dangerous Liaisons" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula." And in all of them, it's a joy to see him just being Keanu, accent intact regardless of the time period.
The problem with nothing. Remember when I said that this play is full of double entendres? Depending on who taught you Shakespeare, you may be aware that there's a particularly naughty one in the title "Much Ado About Nothing." Can you spot it? What if I told you that the play revolves around the hubbub caused by confusion over whether Beckinsale's character has lost her virginity? Now just ruminate on that one for a bit, and if you still haven't figured it out, click here.
The ending sequence. Why don't more films end with the whole cast singing? That's exactly what "Ado" does -- and in one long take, too. I like this closing scene so much, in fact, that I'll preview it right here:
Yeah, no spoiler alert. The play isn't known as tragedy, so I'm not giving a whole lot away by saying that it doesn't end in a "Hamlet"-style bloodbath.
A anecdote and a disclaimer. The person writing this list is 30 years old, so try to not roll your eyes when you read this: This was the first production of a Shakespeare play I ever saw. I must have been 13 years old at the time, and while I had had some classroom experience reading Shakespeare, I'd never seen it brought to life by polished actors. Had I not seen this movie when I did, it might have taken me years to realize how funny and how very human Shakespeare's characters are: As good as his writing can be, he's never better than when he's properly performed. If you've never seen a Shakespeare production, "Much Ado About Nothing" just might be your gateway drug.