I have been unfaithful to Arkangel. I was quite enjoying their presentation, particularly with the excellent Saskia Reeves as Beatrice, but I kept on thinking back to the cinema version of 1993, which I remember with deep nostalgia because it was the year we got married; and eventually I thought, OK, I'll get hold of the Branagh version and watch it instead. Which was surprisingly easy, and definitely worth it.
The play itself is genuinely funny, not quite as funny as A Comedy of Errors, but a better play - the characters are better rounded, and the drama frankly more believable. Beatrice is surely one of the most memorable female roles in Shakespeare (I think only Portia is in the same league). I see from IMDB that her role was played by Penelope Keith in the 1978 BBC version, and by Maggie Smith in a 1967 version which also starred Caroline "Liz Shaw" John as Hero. But the overall frame is good too, the contrast between the Claudia/Hero and Beatrice/Benedick romances, neither of which is straightforward, but complicated in different ways. The Dogberry bits are, for once, pretty integral to the plot, though I suspect it is difficult to integrate them with satisfactory unity of style. (If I were staging it, I'd have Dogberry's guards and maybe even Dogberyy himself visible in the background in all the early crowd scenes, so that they don't appear out of nowhere in Act III.)
Branagh's version is generally beautiful to watch and listen to. The good points include the general sense of movement on screen; the quite gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, who dropped out of Oxford to make this (and who can dispute that she made the right decision); the brilliance of most of the cast (especially the elders, Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, and, where she is allowed, Phyllida Law); and above all the sparkling chemistry between Branagh himself and Thompson (indeed, they almost seem to like each other too much at the beginning). The most serious misfire is with Keanu Reeves, who doesn't quite seem to understand what he is doing there except being Bad. I didn't object as much to Michael Keaton as Dogberry, perhaps because he kept inflicting senseless violence on Ben Elton, which is never a bad thing. I did, however, feel that the darker passages of Act IV hit the tone unduly; most of Branagh's cuts to the script are from the funny bits earlier in the play, and I think that unbalances Shakespeare's original plot dynamic, and results a darker piece perhaps than was intended perhaps by Branagh and certainly by Shakespeare.
Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)