Somewhere along the way within the glorification of William Shakespeare’s works, the thought was that a worthy film adaptation of The Bard’s plays had to be big budget. And that’s always seemed odd when the environments for many of Shakespeare’s plays don’t necessarily have to involve huge set designs when the story and dialogue are the real stars. Conversely, Shakespeare’s tragedies always become weightier when you can see the surrounding majesty, especially of that particularly famous Danish castle.
When it comes to the Shakespeare comedies, it’s a different story. Other than the magic realism elements needed for “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the budgets were never overly conflated in any film adaptation. As well, the set designs couldn’t have been more standard for the last excellent adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” for the big screen by Kenneth Branagh 20 years ago.
It’s a wonder other directors didn’t see the potential of mining more from the Shakespeare comedy file into modern variations. Although we’ve seen numerous movies and TV shows loosely adapted from a few of the comedies, we really haven’t seen a truly successful modern interpretation of a Shakespeare comedy until Joss Whedon hit on a new franchise idea. Made on a low budget and a quick production schedule, his brilliant, modern take on “Much Ado” may have just reinvigorated Shakespeare as Hollywood darling.
If his new modern take on the above (complicated) romantic tale makes profit, you can count on the Shakespeare comedy vault being pillaged to death. In fact, it may surprise you how many of the comedies still haven’t been taken into a modern world where the plot situations are still as relevant as ever. Perhaps Whedon will want to latch onto this fresh franchise himself before everyone else sucks the Shakespeare comedy well dry.
What plays remain that could utilize the timeless qualities “Much Ado” had about the vagaries of romantic relationships? “All’s Well That Ends Well” is one that’s never been adapted into a feature film, mainly because it was so ahead of its time. It deals with a stronger female lead challenging her male romantic interest’s monogamy in a role-reversing way.
There’s also the neglected “The Winter’s Tale” where, despite the fine line between tragedy and comedy, a king suspects his pregnant wife of having an affair. This could easily be re-routed through a modern interpretation of fictitious 21st century royalty. It even comes complete with a little magic realism, especially in the ending.
Let’s also not forget the play that begat just about every comedy situation in movies and TV: “The Comedy of Errors.” Why there hasn’t yet been a modern re-telling of the story is a bit of a surprise. When you have mistaken identities from two sets of twins with carefully plotted sexual and psychological problems, it may all look a little too familiar if not for the Shakespeare name to remind everyone.
Then again, Whedon obviously realized the crux of these plays are easily malleable so you have a feeling of seeing something fresh without the need of staying traditional with Old English.