Much Ado About Branagh
When in 1990 Kenneth Branagh’s luminous film version of Shakespeare’s Henry V appeared like a comet, it seemed an augury of great things. The young and charismatic British star and director was compared with Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles; he was thought capable of rescuing, single-handedly, the great tradition of Shakespearean cinema, a legacy left critically anemic by three decades of Franco Zefirelli’s bloodletting. Although Branagh followed his debut with a pair of lightweight and inconsequential films, no one seemed to mind. Now, with this summer’s Much Ado About Nothing, he is said to have triumphed again. If only that were true. . . .
The critical hyperbole which has greeted this effort is utterly astonishing. One is perhaps inured to lack of restraint in the New York Times’s Vincent Canby—“a ravishing entertainment,” he called Branagh’s movie—but even less flappable reviewers lost their heads. Stanley Kauffmann, for example, was so enraptured that he reviewed the movie twice for the New Republic, in notices filled with gush. Emma Thompson, Branagh’s wife and co-star, Kaufmann wrote, is “the first screen actress since Katharine Hepburn to make intelligence sexy”; or, again, “Branagh’s astonishing energy . . . makes him the Atlas on whom this world rests”; or, finally, “one doesn’t often cry for pleasure at a film. It happened here.” In New York magazine, David Denby, too, envisioned audiences weeping with joy.
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