Home > Reviews > MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – Patrick Doyle



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I will always maintain that, with the possible exception of Sir Laurence Olivier, the only director who can successfully translate Shakespeare to the big screen is Kenneth Branagh. His 1989 cinematic debut Henry V was a lightning bolt, doing away with stuffy line readings and instead embracing rich and complex emotions, thereby making the Bard’s prose modern and invigorating. He brought scenes to life with lavish settings and action sequences, and surrounded it all with rich, bold music. His second Shakespeare adaptation after Henry V was this one: Much Ado About Nothing, a romantic comedy first published in 1599.

The plot revolves around two pairs of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, and Hero and Claudio. As the story begins, Claudio returns from war accompanied by his friend Benedick. Claudio instantly falls in love with Hero, the beautiful daughter of Leonato, the governor of Messina; they plan to marry and seek the help of Claudio’s captain, Don Pedro the Prince of Aragon, in their courtship. Meanwhile, Benedick engages in a battle of wits with Beatrice, Hero’s quick-witted and independent cousin. Despite their constant witty banter, it becomes evident that there is an underlying affection between the two. However, Don Pedro’s resentful brother, Don John, plots to sabotage Claudio and Hero’s impending nuptials out of jealousy and spite. He orchestrates a scheme to deceive Claudio into believing that Hero has been unfaithful, and in doing so throws all their relationships into turmoil.

Much ado was made of Kenneth Branagh’s cast at the time, which many decried as ‘stunt casting,’ but I have always loved the interplay between them: the virginal Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckinsale as the tragic lovers Hero and Claudio, the married-in-real-life (at the time) Branagh and Emma Thompson as the acid-tongued Beatrice and Benedick, Denzel Washington as the noble Don Pedro, Keanu Reeves as the duplicitous Don John, and Michael Keaton as the filthy local magistrate Dogberry, as well as British theatre stalwarts Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, Imelda Staunton, and Phyllida Law in supporting roles. The whole thing is a cinematic happiness bomb; it’s bathed in sunlight, surrounded by gorgeous Tuscan scenery, and it overflows with a sense of joy and joie de vivre that is truly infectious. It’s probably my favorite Shakespeare movie of all time.

The same can be said about Patrick Doyle’s score, which similarly bursts with effervescence, life, energy, and positive emotion. Doyle was still heavily involved with Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company at the time – he even acts in the film, with lines and everything, as Balthazar, one of Don Pedro’s men – and he was composing the score while on-set, which allowed him to truly soak up the atmosphere and re-direct it into his music. Not only that, Doyle also wrote several original themes that are performed on-screen by the cast as songs, which gives the whole thing a sense of congruity, and makes the entire project feel alive and immediate.

To accentuate the central battle-of-the-sexes idea that drives Shakespeare’s story, Doyle’s two primary themes are separated by gender. The women’s theme – those being Beatrice, Hero, and to a lesser extent Margaret and Ursula – is derived from Doyle’s setting of Shakespeare’s lyric ‘Sigh No More,’ which is read beautifully under the opening cue “The Picnic” by Emma Thompson to the cadences of Doyle’s melody, and then is later performed by Doyle himself as a gorgeous romantic ballad in the cue of the same title. The lyrics – ‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever. One foot in sea, and one on shore, to one thing constant never. Then sigh not so, but let them go, and be you blithe and bonny, converting all your sounds of woe into hey nonny, nonny’ – are intended to convey a message of resilience and encourages women not to dwell on the unfaithfulness of men but to find happiness and strength within themselves.

Meanwhile the Men’s Theme – those being Don Pedro, Benedick, and Claudio – is derived from Doyle’s setting of another Shakespeare lyric, ‘Pardon Goddess of the Night,’ which is again sung by Doyle himself in the cue of the same title, but actually appears prominently for the first time in full orchestral glory in the “Overture”. The lyrics of the song – ‘Pardon, goddess of the night, those that slew thy virgin knight, for the which, with songs of woe, round about her tomb they go. Midnight, assist our moan, help us to sigh and groan, heavily, heavily’ – actually come from a different Shakespeare play, Cymbeline, and reflect a sense of mourning, injustice, and the yearning for truth and resolution in the face of loss – again, highly appropriate, considering that a major plot point revolves around the apparent death of Hero following her shaming. I especially like the juxtaposition of the two concepts of ‘sounds/songs of woe’ in the two songs, and how Doyle marries that concept to two very different emotional drivers.

Doyle’s ensemble is large and bold and lush, and uses a full symphony orchestra with special focus on strings (for the romance), brass (for the heroic soldiers returning from war), and guitars (acknowledging the film’s Italian setting). The aforementioned “Overture” is one of Doyle’s all-time greatest cues, and it presents the Men’s Theme in massive, bombastic, fanfare-heavy glory. The Men’s theme actually has both an A-section and a B-section, and they can be performed sequentially or independently, depending on what Doyle is trying to convey. The A-section is more masculine and heroic, while the B-section is more lyrical and thoughtful, and tends to accompany scenes of regret and longing on the part of the male protagonists, although the glorious statement of it on bright trumpets at 3:28 is anything but restrained. There’s also a fanfare version of the Women’s Theme here at 0:22 which is just superb, and the whole thing is awash in majestic, rousing arrangements. The intricate interplay between the different parts of the brass section is especially outstanding.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this enormous high point may result in the rest of the score somewhat paling in comparison, but nothing could be further from the truth, as Doyle puts these two themes through numerous variations to excellent effect.

“The Sweetest Lady” introduces the score’s third major thematic idea, a lyrical melody for elegant strings and poetic woodwinds that underscores the blushing first meeting between Claudio and Hero; this idea re-appears later in the lovely “A Star Danced,” including one statement rendered on a gorgeous solo cello. “The Prince Woos Hero” offers a superb variation on the Men’s Theme which somehow re-imagines a courtship like a battlefield skirmish, complete with clanging sword-like percussion. “Rich She Shall Be” offers yet another variation on the Men’s Theme, this time carried mostly by warm brass, as Benedick wanders through the gardens of Leonato’s palazzo, pondering about the qualities of his ideal bride.

Elsewhere, “The Conspirators” introduces the recurring motif for Keanu Reeves’s character Don John, a mass of tense string sustains, pizzicato textures, and glowering low woodwind passages, that accompany the jealous soldier as he turns his bitterness into a plot to undermine the young lovers Claudio and Hero. A further statement of the Conspirators theme appears in “The Lady is Disloyal,” which at times has the same melodramatic air as Doyle’s score Dead Again, and also features a superb version of the Claudio and Hero theme using Don John’s orchestrations and timbre. Many people point to Reeves as being the film’s weak spot, just as they did with him in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but Doyle does his best to overcome whatever acting limitations Reeves has by painting a portrait of a resentful, devious, unscrupulous man.

“The Masked Ball” is a fun piece of medieval-style fluff full of heavy percussion, period instruments, and dance-like rhythms. Both “The Gulling of Benedick” and “The Gulling of Beatrice” are comedic variations on the two main themes, light and jaunty and usually carried by prancing strings and flighty woodwind passages, as their friends enact good-natured schemes to make them fall in love with each other, despite their own misgivings. “It Must Be Requited” and “Contempt, Farewell,” then underscore the reactions of Beatrice and Benedick to the ‘gulling,’ and the two main themes emerge into wonderful – if slightly incredulous – romance. “Hero’s Wedding” is an exceptionally powerful explosion of the Men’s Theme in all its martial glory, rousing and magisterial, but then everything changes.

“Take Her Back Again” is a darkly dramatic combination of the Men’s Theme and the Claudio and Hero motif, underscoring the traumatic wedding scene where Claudio – having been successfully tricked by Don John into thinking that Hero has cheated on him, when in fact it was Hero’s maid Margaret and Don John’s manservant Borachio – viciously berates and humiliates Hero in front of the wedding party; Doyle’s strings swirl tumultuously here, the brass is strong and vivid, and the percussion throbs incessantly. The subsequent “Die to Live” then warmly combines the Claudio and Hero motif with the Women’s Theme as Hero and Beatrice hatch a plan of their own: Hero will fake her own death, and as everyone else mourns, the truth will eventually be revealed.

There is a real undercurrent of menace to “You Have Killed A Sweet Lady,” which takes the orchestrations of the Conspirators theme and applies them to the to the melody of the Men’s Theme, as Benedick confronts Claudio at Beatrice’s behest, and challenges him to a duel to the death for his part in Hero’s apparent demise. This carries over into the subsequent “Choose Your Revenge,” which is beautiful and longing and tragic and bittersweet, and features some especially striking string harmonies. As I mentioned earlier, “Pardon, Goddess of The Night” is Doyle’s setting of Shakespeare’s poem to the melody of the Men’s Theme, and it underscores the magnificently atmospheric scene of everyone gathering at Hero’s ‘tomb’ by candlelight to mourn her ‘death’. Doyle initially arranges the lyrics for a haunting male voice choir backed by harp glissandi, and then sings the lyrics himself with exquisite tenderness. There are melodic references to the Claudio and Hero motif here too, making it one of the richest and most emotionally satisfying parts of the score. The fact that this same theme can exist as both a rousing militaristic fanfare and as a moving funereal lament is a testament to Doyle’s emotional skill.

Eventually, the truth of the matter is indeed uncovered, Don John and his conspirators are unmasked and arrested, Hero is revealed as alive to a flabbergasted but ecstatic Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick publicly declare their love for each other too, and everyone lives happily ever after. The final cue, “Strike Up, Pipers,” underscores the film’s joyous final scene as the entire cast dance gaily around and through the gardens of Leonato’s palazzo in celebration of life and love, while the choir sings the most vivacious and jubilant version of ‘Sigh No More’ for one last time. This scene is a technical masterpiece, too, as Branagh’s camera weaves in and around and through the frolicking actors in a long unbroken take that concludes with a vertiginous crane shot of the entire palazzo, framed by the golden hills of Tuscany beyond. Wonderful!

Much Ado About Nothing is a quintessential Patrick Doyle score, one of his absolute best, and will especially appeal to anyone who has ever been drawn to his thematic, emotional, romantic, and boldly orchestral side. The two main themes are memorable and vibrant, and especially come alive in the two cues where Doyle sings them himself, while the opening Overture remains – as I said – one of the greatest individual cues of the Scotsman’s entire career. This music is the absolute epitome of converting sounds of woe into hey nonny nonny; there is much ado here, and it is about something very special indeed.

Buy the Much Ado About Nothing soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Picnic (2:57)
  • Overture (4:20)
  • The Sweetest Lady (2:05)
  • The Conspirators (2:39)
  • The Masked Ball (1:55)
  • The Prince Woos Hero (1:18)
  • A Star Danced (2:43)
  • Rich She Shall Be (1:42)
  • Sigh No More Ladies (1:58)
  • The Gulling of Benedick (3:12)
  • It Must Be Requited (1:58)
  • The Gulling of Beatrice (1:14)
  • Contempt, Farewell (1:32)
  • The Lady Is Disloyal (2:14)
  • Hero’s Wedding (0:47)
  • Take Her Back Again (3:10)
  • Die to Live (4:43)
  • You Have Killed A Sweet Lady (3:03)
  • Choose Your Revenge (1:48)
  • Pardon, Goddess of The Night (4:32)
  • Did I Not Tell You (1:40)
  • Hero Revealed (1:26)
  • Benedick, The Married Man (2:06)
  • Strike Up, Pipers (2:41)

Running Time: 58 minutes 54 seconds

Epic Soundtrax EK-54009 (1993)

Music composed by Patrick Doyle. Conducted by David Snell. Orchestrations by Laurence Ashmore and John Bell. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble. Edited by Roy Prendergast. Album produced by Patrick Doyle.

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