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This Shakespeare play revolves around two pairs of lovers – Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) and Hero (Kate Beckinsale), who find that because of the deception of others, the path of true love does not always run smoothly; and Beatrice (Emma Thompson) and Benedick (Kenneth Branagh), who have an antagonistic relationship and fall in love almost against their own wills.

Kenneth Branagh directs, co-produces and stars in this adaptation, and what a truly wonderful adaptation it is.  It is full of colour and life, and left me with such a feeling of happiness afterwards, that it should be available to view on prescription!  Denzel Washington has never looked more handsome than he does here as the Spanish Prince Don Pedro, Richard Briers as Hero’s father Leonato and Brian Blessed as Leonato’s brother Antonio are both wonderful in their roles, and Kate Beckinsale is sweet and lovely as Hero.  It hardly needs to be said that Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are both note-perfect as the squabbling Benedick and Beatrice, making perfect use of Shakespeare’s sharp and witty banter.  It’s worth mentioning Michael Keaton’s small but important part as police constable Dogberry, which he certainly makes the most of, stealing most of the scenes he is in.  The casting isn’t perfect – Keanu Reeves is an odd choice for the villain Don John, who leads Claudio into mistakenly believing that Hero has been unfaithful, and Robert Sean Leonard is rather wooden as Claudio.  However, there is so much to enjoy in this film that it hardly matters.

Although it does contain dark themes – the aborted first wedding of Claudio and Hero is upsetting, particularly as the viewer knows that Hero has been slandered – it is mainly cheerful with a happy tone throughout.  I’d recommend this to fans and non-fans of Shakespeare alike.  It is definitely one of my favourite Shakespeare adaptations.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Producers: Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Evans, David Parfitt

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Kenneth Branagh (screenplay)

Main cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, Michael Keaton

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Click here for my review of the televised live performance of Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2011)

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There have been so many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels that it can be a bit confusing knowing where to start if you want to watch one.  This version of Emma is not the most well known, but I certainly think it’s worth a watch.

Kate Beckinsale plays Emma Woodhouse – a well meaning, but impetuous girl who likes to meddle in other people’s lives a little bit too much.  She thinks she’s doing them a favour, but she is about to learn that sometimes it’s best to leave well alone.  Her brother in law, George Knightley (the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband) is fond of Emma but is exasperated when she interferes in the affairs of her young friend Harriet Smith, and disastrously tries to set Harriet up with the local minister, Mr Elton.

Emma looks like she may be in for a romance herself when the handsome Franklin Churchill shows up, but it may be that Churchill has his own secrets…and what is the secret that young Jane Fairfax, recently returned to Highbury, is hiding?  Emma thinks she knows, but when the truth is revealed she might be in for a shock.

As far as adaptations go, this one is pretty faithful to the book.  I thought Kate Beckinsale (almost unrecognisable from how she looks today after being ‘Hollywoodised’) played the part of Emma very well, and delivered the right amount of mischievousness and haughtiness (it should be remembered that Jane Austen thought that Emma was someone who no reader would like, but I feel that she was a bit harsh on the character).  However, I did think that the character came across as slightly more ‘bitchy’ or cutting than the Emma Woodhouse of the novel (particularly in her scenes with Franklin).  Mark Strong plays George Knightley – a character I adored when I read the book.  Strong plays the part fairly well, but tended to make Knightley always so intense and angry.  I’m afraid that I was also somewhat distracted by his awful hair style!!  However, the best actors in the whole piece were Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – a character who could have been played purely for laughs, but who here is imbued with a sense of poignancy and wistfulness; and Samantha Morton, who played Harriet Smith to perfection and was exactly as I imagined Harriet would be when I read the book.  Raymond Coulthard is also great as Franklin Churchill, with just the right amount of handsome arrogance and good humour.

The period is brought to life very well, and the fact that I knew the ending did not spoil my enjoyment of the film (in fact, it probably enhanced it).  This film, made for ITV television, is not as famous as the version starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma, but I think it’s well worth a look, especially for anybody who is a fan of the book.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Jane Austen (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton, Raymond Coulthard, Olivia Williams, Dominic Rowan, Prunella Scales

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series.

Click here for my review of the 1995 film Clueless (adaptation of Emma).

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