"Much Ado About Nothing" (2005)

Shakespeare-told Much Ado About Nothing
Sarah Parish (Beatrice), Damian Lewis (Benedick), Billie Piper (Hero), Tom Ellis (Claude)

Directed by Brian Percival ("North & South")

Summary: Shakespeare's play is adapted to modern times and set in a television studio, featuring squabbling co-anchors, a weather girl, a sports reporter, and a scheming Scotsman who once ran Torchwood.

I stumbled on this Saturday night and settled in to watch, a smile on my face the whole time. I mean, what's not to love? It's clever and sweet and very funny, with all the ear-bending Shakespearean middle English re-imagined to become whip-smart modern dialogue.

And then there's Damian Lewis. *sigh* He transforms from a goofy and immature prick into a goofy but charming, intense, wonderful hero. I loved this scene, especially where he whispers, "God, you're clever." Smart girl swoon.

Can I say that Billie Piper really is adorable? She's all sunshine smiles and heart. And then she beats up a dude, which means she's also hard. I downloaded some of the songs from her teenaged recording career, only to find them lackluster and rather ordinary. "Honey to the Bee" is ok, except for the whispery bits, and "Day and Night" is a moderately acceptable retread of Britney's "Hit Me Baby," but the rest are infinitely forgettable.

I'm guessing a substantial part of her appeal has always been based on her personality, or least the persona she adopts--which, I suppose, made her perfectly suited to acting. Seeing these old videos made me realize that her transformation from sex kitten pop superstar into dumpy, ordinary, not-reached-her-potential-yet Rose for the "Doctor Who" debut was rather profound. Must have taken some getting used to among her fans.

Rather without success, I've been trying to think of another singer who has made the jump to acting with her success. Maybe Mos Def? He's very good, although not many people know his work. Frank Sinatra sure did, back in the day, but he never gave up singing completely the way Billie has. Can you think of any others?

The storyline of her character, Hero, the weather girl, was altered most dramatically from the original play. Here, after she is humiliated at the altar, Hero takes control of her life and refuses to accept Claude's apologies, whereas Shakespeare allows her to forgive and forget much more quickly. I like this version because it returns agency to Hero and allows her to become an independent person before granting the possibility of reconciliation.

But the high point, overall, was the interaction between Beatrice and Benedick. Great writing, fantastic acting, and the most enjoyable new take on an old favorite. Next up: "The Taming of the Shrew"!

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