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Richard III [1995 film] by Richard Loncraine

Richard III [1995 film]

by Richard Loncraine (Director), Ian McKellen (actor/screenwriter)

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Richard III (1995)

Ian McKellen – Richard III

Jim Broadbent – Buckingham
Kristin Scott Thomas – Lady Anne
Maggie Smith - Duchess of York
Annette Bening – Queen Elizabeth
Nigel Hawthorne – Clarence
Jim Carter – Hastings
Dominic West – Richmond
Robert Downy Jr. – Rivers

Adapted by Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine.
Directed by Richard Loncraine.

Kinowelt Home Entertainment. 105 min. Colour. Dolby Surround. 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1).


This impressive adaptation of Richard III transports you from fifteenth-century England to a fictional place that looks, and sounds, very much like England from the 1930s. Appropriately, Richard is a Nazified maniac who enters into a civil war with tanks and bombs. The only difference is that his huge red flags, instead of swastika, have, of course, a boar.

Visually the movie is spectacular, with lavish sets and costumes that make for a great atmosphere, no expense spared. It’s a little too graphic at some places, but I daresay this fits the plot very well. Clarence’s throat is cut in his bathtub, Rivers is stabbed through while entertaining a lady in bed, the young princes are suffocated with handkerchief, Hastings is hanged, Buckingham strangled: all this more or less “onstage”. Richard tops them all by throwing himself from a high building into a great fire below, smiling all the time; a little overblown but not entirely inappropriate solution. The “wooing” scene takes place in the morgue, around the naked body of Edward, shot in the chest and the head by Richard in the very beginning of the movie. Altogether harrowing yet haunting spectacle.

Unfortunately the original is very substantially cut; at least half of it is missing, but the rest is very cleverly arranged. I understand it was McKellen himself who did the job, and since he had reportedly played the part (nearly) complete on stage many times before, it is no wonder that he achieved excellent continuity and admirable preservation of the spirit. The movie is extremely fast-paced, it runs for only about 100 minutes or so, and makes a most effective use of modern (for the 1930s) technology. There are also some smart changes in the order and the nature of the events, none of them really detrimental. For example, Richard meets Tyrrel in the beginning and later turns him into his most trusted assassin. He appears as one of the two murderers of Clarence and then continues to remove human obstacles from Richard’s way to the top.

Not all cuts or changes are commendable, though. Inserting Richmond’s marriage to Elizabeth (not the ex-queen; her daughter) is both unnecessary and unconvincing. It is mentioned as arranged but it never happens in the play, and rightly so. Even more misguided is showing Richmond and Elizabeth naked in bed, apparently having spent their first night together right before the final battle. There are also some lines that are cut very badly indeed. For instance, “He hath no friends but what are friends for fear, / Which in his dearest need will fly from him” (V.2.20-21) has, for some obscure reason, been reduced merely to “He hath no friends”. No matter. These are just quibbles in an otherwise clever and exciting adaptation.

The cast is quite impressive. Ian McKellen steals the show completely. ‘Tis a pity that such a great actor is mostly known worldwide from movies like The Lord of the Rings and The Da Vinci Code. He plays a sinister Richard not easily forgotten. Most of his soliloquies, or what’s left of them, he delivers directly to the camera (as did Olivier in 1955), and there’s nothing better to put you in Richard’s confidence. One of the movie’s most unorthodox touches is to make the beginning of “Now is the winter of our discontent” a public speech during a lavish royal party. The rest of it, very ingeniously, takes place in the toilet.

For Ian McKellen alone the movie is very much worth seeing. The only unconvincing part is “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” which Richard shouts in a military jeep in the middle of explosions and roaring machine guns. The line, notwithstanding its fame, should have been omitted. Interestingly, these are not Richard’s last words. Instead, before flying off the edge, he says these two lines which occur a little earlier in the play (V.3.313-4):

March on, join bravely, let us to’t pell-mell;
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.

The rest of the cast includes some great hits and some near misses. Annette Bening plays a Queen Elizabeth not without some weak moments, but she is especially fine in the powerful last scene with Richard. Robert Downey Jr. is pretty dull as the bohemian and lecherous Rivers, a radical but convincing departure from Shakespeare. Kristin Scott Thomas does a thoroughly mediocre job as Lady Anne, sufficiently mentally unstable to do what she did and end as a drug addict. Maggie Smith is excellent as the Duchess (Margaret is of course completely omitted), but Jim Broadbent (Buckingham) and Jim Carter (Hastings) are rather stodgy, quite overshadowed by McKellen.

The movie is not devoid of insightful moments that bring something like revelation to the text. Perhaps my favourite example, apart from McKellen’s solo passages, is the good laugh that Richard and Buckingham had after the farce they played for the Lord Mayor. It’s one of the most amusing scenes in the play (III.5.) and it’s terrific to see it acted so marvellously over the top. Ironically, it led straight to Richard’s being elected King in a spectacle that Adolf would have relished.

Another very perceptive touch is Richard’s speaking to the camera his line “I thank my God for my humility!” in the end of the scene where he ostensibly declares his good intentions towards everybody. In the play (II.1.74) the line is not marked to be spoken “aside”, but this fits the scene to perfection. It’s also in line with Richard’s passion for mockery and his fierce delight in his own acting skills. One almost expects him to say something like “I’d like to thank the Academy”.

If you are not afraid of controversial adaptations, give this one a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Mar 18, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Loncraine, RichardDirectorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKellen, Ianactor/screenwritermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bening, Annettesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Broadbent, Jimsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Downey, Robert, Jr.secondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Shakespeare, WilliamOriginal playsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Maggiesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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In 1930's Britain, in the wake of a bloody civil war, the younger brother of the new King sets in motion a monstrous scheme to claim the throne for himself. Updated version of Shakespeare's tale.

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