Ever since having fond memories of studying it in school, 'Much Ado About Nothing' became one of my favourites of Shakespeare's plays. Love everything about it, though it is very difficult to make Hero and Claudio interesting, because there is so much fun and charm, particularly great characters in Beatrice and Benedick, a story that never lets up on the entertainment value and Shakespeare's text is some of his loveliest and most amusing.
As far as the BBC Television Shakespeare series (one where some productions are better than others but misfires are very few) goes, their 1984 performance of 'Much Ado About Nothing' is among the best of the productions. Despite loving Kenneth Branagh's version on primarily its own merits, for namely the visuals, music, Branagh and Emma Thompson, this one is the better version of 'Much Ado About Nothing' with particularly vastly superior performances of Dogberry and Don John. While not as visually striking as that, it is more faithful and it is more tasteful as well. When it comes to this play, this is as good a version as one can get in my view.
While not as cinematic quality or as sumptuous, the costumes and sets are tastefully designed and didn't come over as too drab or garish. The photography complements very nicely and in terms of lighting it didn't come over as dreary or over-saturated. There is a sense of time and place, which always helps when performing anything but Shakespeare is one of the biggest examples, and effort was clearly made.
Have no issues whatsoever with Shakespeare's text and the stage direction does a great job helping to bring it alive. The momentum never lets up, and for me it didn't feel dull at first, and the comedy is genuinely funny, at its best hilarious, and not overdone (not to the extent that it irritates anyhow). It's not just comedy, there is genuine tension in the wedding scene, one of the stage direction highlights here, and there was emotion too in particularly the latter stages. The chapel scene is one of the greatest individual scenes of the entire BBC Television Shakespeare series, Beatrice's despair was tremendously powerful. The character relationships are handled with humour, tension, charm and poignancy, that between Benedick and Beatrice particularly.
Likewise, no issues can be had with the performances. Cherie Lunghi's Beatrice, one of Shakespeare's most interesting female characters (and overall actually), stood out, her wit, shrewish nature and identifiable assertiveness making it easy for one to see what can be seen in her. Entertaining chemistry can be seen between her and Robert Lindsay's suitably arrogant and commanding Benedick in their merry war against each other. Katherine Levy is a radiant Hero and makes the most of the role, while Robert Reynolds avoids being wet as Claudio.
Jon Finch is scheming and noble as Don Pedro, while there are two performances that are infinitely better here than in Branagh's. Am aware that this came before Branagh's, but saw Branagh's first and have always been more familiar with it. Michael Elphick has fun as Dogberry while not over-acting or being too clownish, while Vernon Dobtchef is a subtly Machiavellian Don John.
To conclude, wonderful. 10/10