Now famously, Joss Whedon shot this in 12 days at his own home as a “relaxation project” having finished The Avengers movie, inviting all his friends to take part. So I was both inclined (as a Buffy and Firefly fan) to be generously indulgent towards it and yet concerned that it might be a lacklustre and slapdash vanity project.
I have to admit that I found the panoply of familiar faces in unfamiliar roles a little distracting at first but there was no sense that anyone was slacking – from the setting (modern American high politics) to the screenplay and performances, everyone seemed to be taking pains in making sure this was a ‘serious’ adaptation. Serious, but by no means sombre. There is much fun to be had and Joss and pals have it, deftly delivering the witticisms (always a Whedon strength) and making best use of some extraordinarily well executed physical clowning.
Shot in black and white and played as a pretty straightforward retelling (always allowing for the modern setting, and some judicious trimming of the text) this is a more than competent version of the play. I was fortunate in catching the RSC staging of the play in which Tamsin Greig absolutely shone as Beatrice. Amy Acker doesn’t quite match that performance – how could it? – but hers is probably the standout performance among many very good ones. Hell, even Dogberry, usually as dreary as Shakespeare clowns get, is pretty funny here.
Not a massively cinematic experience but well worth catching on television or DVD, and will surely go down as one of the ‘standard’ versions for new audiences. And fans of Angel will surely be cock-a-hoop that Wesley and Fred finally get together!