Shakespeare’s Richard III,one of the playwright’s earlier
efforts, is generally classified as one of the great history plays, but it’s
also considered one of the better tragedies. It’s also among the bard’s
bloodier and nastier pieces of work. After all, the protagonist is the
villain—and oh, what a villain Richard III, the deformed and power-mad king of
England who ruled the land for a couple of turbulent years in the mid-1480s,
truly is. Throughout the course of the story, he manages to murder or give the
order to murder nearly the entire supporting cast.
play has been filmed before, most notably by Laurence Olivier in 1955, but director
Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film production, based on the stage production by the
Royal National Theatre, takes the story into a very different universe. It’s
always risky to mess with Shakespeare’s temporal settings, but this particular
experiment works like gangbusters.
an alternate fascist England in the late 1930s/early 1940s, in which the story
takes place within something similar to the world of a Nazi propaganda film,
namely The Triumph of the Will, which
documented Hitler’s rise to power. Here, Richard III, superbly embodied by Ian
McKellen (who was also a producer of the film) is a Nazi-like dictator,
complete with a Nazi-like uniform, SS-like henchmen, and a WW2-era military to
serve his wishes. British landmarks are easily recognizable in the picture, and
the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes brilliantly legitimize the brave
concept. If anything, Richard III is
a sumptuous visual feast.
said, I believe this is a Shakespearean adaptation that is accessible to general
audiences. Those familiar with the play will enjoy what the filmmakers did with
the piece, and those who can’t stand Shakespeare will probably find themselves
totally engrossed. The all-star cast is terrific—Annette Bening, Robert Downey,
Jr., Jim Broadbent, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, and a
who’s-who of other British supporting players join McKellen, who dominates the
film with a bravura performance. They all manage to properly deliver the
Shakespearean dialogue with clarity; when the acting is spot-on in Shakespeare,
it’s not difficult to comprehend the meaning behind the language.
yet, the running time is less than two hours—screenwriters Loncraine and
McKellan cleverly cut the piece (which is the second longest play Shakespeare
wrote) into a tight, fast-moving spectacle of villainous treachery. McKellen’s
breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience adds to the nudge-nudge,
wink-wink factor that gives the film its irony. There is humor, to be sure, and
one of the better laughs is how the line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a
horse!” is employed.
Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray is a delight. The transfer is above average,
with sharp images and bold colors. Extras include an isolated music and effects
track and the theatrical trailer.
fans will certainly want to pick up this one, and it’s a good bet that most
cinema buffs will appreciate the thriller aspects, the acting, and the
exquisite look of the inspired and daring re-invention of the play.