On my father’s side of the family, people tended to be educated; if they didn’t have degrees, they at least read. On the other side, not so much. Yea back in the 1970s, I was in a living room in a house that has known nothing of my family for some decades now, watching the, God help us, Hallmark Hall Of Fame presentation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Richard Chamberlain. Yes, the Richard Chamberlain that achieved fame as Doctor Kildare in the 1960s and went on to be a heart-throb in Thorn Birds, Shogun and the like.
Things had gotten to the point of “Give me some light!” and the disorderly breakup of The Murther of Gonzago when one of my numb-nuts, quotidian relatives stepped into the room. She had been shelling peas or folding laundry or something and wanted to know what was happening on “the show” — it was Richard Chamberlain, after all. I explained about the dead royal father and the hasty marriage to his brother and the suspicion of murder in an undertone while the action advanced toward Queen Gertrude’s chambers.
The peas or the laundry or whatever got shoved aside and a ringing phone was ignored. “I gotta see how this comes out,” she said.
I thought of this while reading some online comments on the trailers for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, a workmanlike effort that will never replace Branagh’s 1992 colossus of a film, but captured me against my will — a bit like the reluctant Beatrice, I — over a pleasant hundred or so minutes yesterday afternoon. (If you go, my advice is to just tough out the stilted acting in the first ten minutes; they should have shot that part over, and some of the actors never do find it in themselves, they just don’t, but it’s not bad enough to ruin things.) YouTube commentary beggars belief: “Love Joss Whedon’s dialogue!” “Can’t you leave out the spoilers?”
Well… I like to think that shrewd businessman and work-a-nights Wm. Shakspe would love to know that someone stopped shelling peas to learn how his play came out, or ranted at people to stop uttering “spoilers,” a term any dramatist would have to appreciate. A good production is one that makes you hope that this time, Lear will come to his senses and recall Cordelia, that this time Macbeth will grab his wife by the shoulders and say “Are you out of your fucking mind?” Whedon had his moments.
Weird but good: territorial wars in Italy re-imagined as Mafia wars in modern America; okay. Just weird: Conrade, the low man on the totem pole of nasties, cast as a slattern girlfriend of the henchman Borachio — himself a bit startling in the person of a beardless youth. Just good: sets so naturalistic and tactile that they suck you in; you smell night air in one and feel the cramped rooms making you duck in another. And Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry — a favorite role of my late and ex, who specialized in Peter Quinces and Snugs and other Shakespearean dimwit goofs — may be the most deliciously understated that I’ve ever personally enjoyed, even after hearing it done at bedside by a gnome in a bathrobe.
Scadzillions of people who wouldn’t go to a Shakespeare play if they had all afternoon to kill will go check this out because Whedon did it — what Shakespeare film was ever publicized by noting that the director was known for a comic-book franchise? Can there be something bad about that?
Oh, PS: Special Agent Coulson as Leonato. No clips: take my word for it: perfect.