Had an unexpected day of Shakespeare yesterday. I had a DVD of the BBC miniseries Shakespeare Retold floating around, so over lunch I figured I'd sit down and watch it. There are four stories on two discs--Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Predictably, they all have hordes of very recognizable, very good British actors in them. I watched Much Ado About Nothing, because it was the only one of the four I'd never read or seen.
These really are adaptations--they use the story, not the language. Much Ado is set in a fictional local television studio. Beatrice and Benedick are rival news broadcasters. Sarah Parish and Damian Lewis play the pair. I found Sarah Parish extremely familiar, and I know what movies I've seen that she was in, but I don't actually remember her in those movies with any clarity at all, so I don't know why she's so familiar. Damian Lewis, of course, memorable as Soames in The Forsyte Saga. Billie Piper, of Dr Who fame, plays Hero, and everybody else is familiar as well. This was a lovely, lovely adaptation. I couldn't believe I'd never encountered Much Ado before, as it's completely my kind of romantic comedy. And all the actors were perfect in their roles. The tv studio setting worked very well to bring the cast together believably, and it was perfect for people overhearing each other, which is crucial to the story, as microphones and headsets could be left on "accidentally." Anyway, I loved the whole thing.
Later in the day I sat down and read the play. Seemed like the thing to do. It strikes me as rather a simpler story than some of the comedies (Twelfth Night springs to mind as the obvious Comedy With Issues). Much Ado is more black and white, with a clear villain and nothing left particularly unresolved at the end. I'd love to see it performed. I also noticed that Jane Austen borrowed the sentiment in Emma that "if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more" from Claudio in Much Ado. He says, "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were but little happy, if I could say how much."
I watched Taming of the Shrew, too. I was less impressed with it, but then that play has some unavoidable issues anyway. It did, though, make it much more palatable to a 21st century woman than the original play is. It's not just Kate that must be tamed, it's Petruchio, too. Kate is an MP, played by Shirley Henderson (familiar from all sorts of movies and tv, though I always sort of think of her as Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter). She's completely terrifying, actually. I never thought of Kate as a shrew in quite that way. She screams at everybody, flips over a table in a restaurant, and generally goes around in a rage. Petruchio played by Rufus Sewell, which I thought was a good choice. Ultimately the whole thing was kind of ridiculous--Petruchio shows up to their wedding in heels, a skirt, and eyeliner, and Kate spends a lot of time running around in her gorgeous wedding dress, getting it really dirty. But it was fun, which I guess is sometimes just the way you have to go with Shakespeare.
Now I'll have to find time to watch the other two stories. Macbeth not my favourite, but it's got Keeley Hawes and Richard Armitage in it, so I'll watch it anyway.