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Program Title
Much Ado About Nothing

Based On
The play by WIlliam Shakespeare

Adapted By
Kenneth Branagh

Number of Episodes:

The lush green hillsides of Sicily are the setting for two intertwined and passionate love stories, one mischievously funny and the other, sweetly poignant. Both are set in motion by the return of Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, to the capitol after defeating his half-brother Don John in battle. The two brothers and their armies appear reconciled, so the soldiers and their women have a joyous reunion. It's a ripe setting for handsome young soldier Count Claudio to fall in love and propose to beautiful Hero, daughter of Leonato, governor and host to the merriment. But Don John is jealous of the others' happiness, and maliciously concocts a plan to convince Claudio that Hero is unfaithful to him. The second love story concerns Hero's cousin, the feisty Lady Beatrice, and returning soldier Benedick, two clever-tongued people who would do anything rather than admit their obvious attraction to each other. Don Pedro and Claudio mischievously tell each that the other is secretly pining for them, and wait for the romantic and humorous complications to follow. Meanwhile, Don John stages a tryst in silhouette which deceives Claudio into thinking his beloved Hero has cheated on him on the very eve of their wedding. But luckily, the local constable Dogberry has overheard Don John's plotting. Dogberry vows to put things right - if only he can stop mangling the language long enough to be understood. Poor Hero is publicly disgraced at the altar, but Claudio must eat his words when Don John's plot is finally revealed. And Beatrice and Benedick, bantering all the way are tricked into acknowledging, first to themselves, then to one another, that they are in love. Both couples, safely together, enjoy a final dance of celebration.

Original broadcast date

Cast Characters
Kenneth Branagh Seigneur Benedick
Emma Thompson Beatrice
Denzel Washington Don Pedro of Aragon
Robert S Leonard Count Claudio of Florence
Richard Briers Seigneur Leonato
Brian Blessed Seigneur Antonio
Kate Beckinsale Hero
Imelda Staunton Margaret
Phyllida Law Ursula
Edward Jewesbury Sexton
Gerard Horan Borachio
Richard Clifford Conrade
Jimmy Yuill Friar Francis
Patrick Doyle Balthazar
Ben Elton Verges
Michael Keaton Dogberry
Keanu Reeves Don John
Andy Hockley George Seacole
Chris Barnes Frances Seacole
Conrad Nelson Hugh Oatcake


Producer: Kenneth Branagh, David Parfitt
Director: Kenneth Branagh

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING/Intro by Russell Baker

Tonight we go to Italy, land of warlike men, passionate women and sensuous delights.

Our stars are Kenneth Branagh -- the distinguished actor, director, producer -- and his equally distinguished wife, the Academy-Award-winning actress Emma Thompson.

For the script we also have a pretty fair writer, though he hasn't won an Academy Award -- William Shakespeare.

And -- surprisingly in a cast packed with British Shakespearean actors -- three major roles will be played by performers familiar to American moviegoers: Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Keanu Reeves.

Our show is one of Shakespeare's most joyous and silliest comedies. There is a war without casualties, a villain without a cause and a heroine named Hero. In this light-hearted spirit Kenneth Branagh's cameras treat us to an opening spectacle Shakepeare couldn't possibly have staged in the tiny Globe Theatre -- a mass bathing scene.

Now, William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING/Extro by Russell Baker

It's fascinating to see Shakespeare brush aside story-telling conventions in Much Ado About Nothing.

For instance, you're probably wondering what's behind the villainy of Don John that makes him such a rotten human being. The answer is, there's nothing behind it. Shakespeare needed a deep-dyed villain for plot purposes, so he simply set one down on stage -- a wooden villain, as it were -- and gave him a mane. No playwright nowadays would be allowed to get away with such cavalier indifference to convention.

He'd have to explore psychology, history and motivation and, in the process, probably lose track of the comedy.

Shakespeare also pays little attention to plausibility. When Claudio denounces Hero at the altar, for instance, we want to say, Oh come on now.

In that court where everybody knows everybody else and even bathes together, for heaven's sake, is it conceivable that a dozen witnesses didn't know what Hero was really doing at the time of the window scene?

Would any sensible man of the world really believe Hero died of humiliation?

Shakespeare serenely ignores all these silly questions that bother us, and gets away with it, I think, because he instinctively knows that silliness is at the heart of comedy.

And more than that, he knows that worrying too much about the conventions might result in just another conventional play destined to close next week.

By 1999, Much Ado About Nothing will have been running four hundred years.

For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.

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