Shakespeare Plays Available in Video Format
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All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Coriolanus
Cymbeline
Hamlet
Henry IV, part 1
Henry IV, part 2
Henry V
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, part 2
Henry VI, part 3
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
King John
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Macbeth
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Othello
Pericles
Richard II
Richard III
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
The Tempest
Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus
Troilus and Cressida
Twelfth Night
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeareana

Available versions

1967: Alan Cooke

1973: Nick Havinga (Joseph Papp)

1984: Stuart Burge

1987: Herb Roland (Peter Moss)

1993: Kenneth Branagh

2010: Brandon Arnold

2011: Josie Rourke

2012: Joss Whedon

2012: Robin Lough (Jeremy Herrin)


Adaptations

2005: ShakespeaRe-Told: Much Ado About Nothing


Much Ado About Nothing
1984: Stuart Burge

It probably will appear even to a casual reader of this site that I’m generally a fan of the BBC Shakespeare collection, and for the most part they are really quite excellent productions. The budget for them was very modest, and they relied on superior acting, rather than any other secondary features, to make them work. Most of them were at least adequate, I think. A handful of them were not as good. A few of them, though, were genuinely brilliant, and this is one of them.

The play is set in its own period, as most of them are; the costumes are quite lavish for the series; the sets are stagey but more than adequate; the music is suited to the period as well. The cinematography is unremarkable, but by the same token it’s not distracting either. It’s there to present the story. But the script is more complete than one will find elsewhere, and the acting is nearly perfect throughout.

The main focal roles, as always, are Beatrice and Benedick, and both of them are extraordinary. Cherie Lunghi brings more nuance to this role — from the slightest of gestures to the delivery of each particular line — than I have ever seen from anyone else. I’m a big fan of Emma Thompson’s performance in the Branagh version (1993), but it’s slightly less acidic and incisive than Lunghi’s. Part of that is doubtless a function of the cuts in the script, but Lunghi inhabits the role from top to bottom. She manages the rapid repartee with Benedick at the beginning; she rises to the avenging-angel persona she needs to assume in the aftermath of the abortive wedding; at the end she emerges with a warmth that’s hard to match. Every line is thought-out on its own. I think it’s as good a rendition of the role as one is likely ever to see. Viewers may have seen her in Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not for Burning; elsewhere, in the short-lived series Covington Cross, or perhaps as Guenevere in Excalibur.

Robert Lindsay’s Benedick is a little more reserved than Branagh’s, and he’s not as famous an actor in the cinematic circuit, but is quite well-known in British television. Nevertheless, he brings a virtuosic stage-trained sensibility to the role. He also appears as Lysander in the same series’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Fabian in the BBC Twelfth Night as well. He plays Edmund in the Laurence Olivier version of King Lear, too. His part is fully realized with a number of small subtleties that are quite delightful. The throw-away stage business that occurs between him and the boy, while he’s listening to the music and then the set-up that entraps him in respect to Beatrice, is droll and perfectly timed as well.

But the excellence of the production is not confined to these two. Both Hero and Claudio are played with more intensity than any of the others I’ve seen as well. The former projects a vivid sense of the pain and terror in her isolation, as one after another, including her father, abandon her at her wedding. Claudio appears genuinely offended as well; one can almost sympathize with his gullible lapse of judgment, if not his want of charity. Between them, they elevate the weaker pair of lovers in the story to a much more substantial place. Don Pedro is played as somewhat foppish by Jon Finch, who has played a number of Shakespeare roles, from Macbeth in the Polanski Macbeth to the continuing role of Bolingbroke/Henry IV in the BBC Shakespeare Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry IV, Part 2. Even Dogberry is played in a straightforward manner that preserves the ridiculousness of his role and yet allows him some dignity as well. It’s a nicely balanced performance. There’s much to be said for relying on Shakespeare’s words to do the real work of the play. They will not usually let one down.

One unusual standout of the film is Vernon Dobtcheff as Don John. It’s a problematic role to play in the best of times; he’s given the full complement of lines in which to do it, though, and he has the acting chops to carry it off with a serpentine subtlety that surpasses anyone else’s performance of the role that I’ve seen.

Altogether this is, I think, a sublimely elegant and nearly perfectly acted film of the play. It makes an excellent foil to the Branagh version of nine years later, if one can see two different versions. If one only has a chance to see one, make it this one. It will not disappoint.


Antonio: Gordon Whiting

Balthasar: Oz Clarke

Beatrice: Cherie Lunghi

Benedick: Robert Lindsay

Borachio: Tony Rohr

Boy: Ben Losh

Claudio: Robert Reynolds

Conrade: Robert Gwilym

Dancer: Barbara Rhoades

Dancer: Bryan Payne

Dancer: Clair Symonds

Dancer: Jean Pierre Blanchard

Dancer: Nicola Keen

Dancer: Peter Salmon

Dancer: Philippa Luce

Dancer: Simone Baker

Dancer: Trevor St. John Hacker

Dogberry: Michael Elphick

Don John: Vernon Dobtcheff

Don Pedro: Jon Finch

First Watch: Gorden Kaye

Friar Francis: Graham Crowden

Hero: Katharine Levy

Leonato: Lee Montague

Margaret: Pamela Moiseiwitsch

Member of Watch: Declan Mulholland

Member of Watch: Roger Frost

Member of Watch: Stephen Wale

Messenger: Tim Faulkner

Second Watch: Perry Benson

Sexton: John Kidd

Ursula: Ishia Bennison

Verges: Clive Dunn