28 June 2009

Richard III (1995 version)

Last night I watched the 1995 film adaptation of Richard III. As I blogged last week while discussing The Daughter of Time, I think the Shakespearean treatment of Richard is biased, in part because the author of the play (Edward deVere) is a descendant of John deVere ("Oxford"), who led the Tudor forces against Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

That disclaimer aside, I thought this was an excellent movie. Traditionalists may be distressed to see the play set in an alternate England of the 1930s, with Richard and his compatriots as pseudo-Nazis. But Ian McKellen is superb in this role, and well deserved his BAFTA award as Best Actor.

If you want a sample, here is the trailer:


  1. McKellan is a genius and a mensch. I'll watch anything he's in, and kiss his feet afterward.

    But oh, GOD, I hate to see Shakespeare "updated" to a different historical period than the one the play is set in! It always feels like an apology--"We know you'll be bored to tears with all this old-fashioned stuff if we don't jazz it up for you, give you a setting you can relate to."

    Give me a BREAK. The best Shakespeare I ever saw in my life was done in the 50-seat basement of a church on New York's Lower East Side, with no sets and hardly any props, no costumes to speak of, white shirts and black pants or long skirts for the ordinary folk, plain suits or gowns for royalty.

    No gimmicks, just the damn play, with superb direction and fine actors who knew how to say the words. That's how you give people Shakespeare they can relate to.

    (wiping away the spittle)

  2. @Swift Loris - I understand your dismay, but this isn't "dumbed down" for the general public; it's not a West Side Story musical version. Except for some soliloquys that were deleted, the text is still original. McKellen makes it real, even in the modern setting, and the visuals are superb. Check the DVD out from your library and give it a try...

  3. I happen to think that that's what makes Shakespeare so classic--we can take the plays and set them anywhere, yet they still retain their essential themes and feelings. I happen to enjoy a creative interpretation, and have seen some very successful updates and some very flat traditional interpretations, and vice versa, of course. It simply depends on acting and directing.

  4. I always thougt that Richard III was written either by Shakespeare or a time-traveller named Tobias Wren. This alternative is one that most historians and literary scholars reject but which is supported by a number of researchers and theatre practitioners. :P

  5. I love this version. The fascist setting reminds me of what a devious political era Shakespeare play is set in.

  6. I'm a Ricardian and I thought this version was brilliant and classic. Let's face it, if Shakespeare hadn't demonized Richard III, he would have faded into obscurity. So even though Shakespeare's version was fiction (including making people who were dead alive for dramatic purposes) using real people, I have to thank him for making Richard III immortal.

    One problem I have with many Shakespearean productions is that many actors don't seem to understand the language (being different enough from today's English) so that the words are said with little or no meaning making the play unintelligible. If nothing else, the 1995 version is clear--we understand what is being said.

  7. The problem is that "updating" the setting implies that the play will be more interesting that way, that it's an improvement.

    You can't "improve" Shakespeare, no matter how sophisticated the attempt, except with better acting and directing.

    In the case of Richard III, the play itself tells you how devious the political era was. It doesn't need reinforcement. Changing the setting amounts to inserting an ongoing commentary on the play into the production itself.

    If the audience wants to draw their own parallels to more recent history, more power to 'em.

  8. Is it possible that Shakespeare wrote the Shakespeare plays? I know this is a radical proposal but it does have the benefit of simplicity.

    As an aside, I once saw Julius Caesar staged as in a Central American dictatorship during a military coup. It wasn't any better and the gunshots were very loud and obnoxious.

  9. IMO, plays are green and as an art form lend themselves to interpretation. I guess I'm not a purist at heart.

  10. Can anyone identify the building with the fabulous interior tiled walls (blue-green), arched ceiling, balcony? I have seen it in several UK productions, but it is not identified in the credits. Thanks.

  11. Is it one of these, perhaps?

    * St Pancras railway station is relocated to Westminster and becomes King Edward's seat of government.
    * Battersea Power Station is relocated to the coast of Kent and becomes a bombed-out military base.
    * Bankside Power Station becomes the Tower of London where Clarence is imprisoned.
    * Brighton Pavilion is relocated to a coastal clifftop and becomes King Edward's country retreat.
    * Senate House of the University of London is Richard's seat of government and is used for interior and exterior scenes.[1] The famous art deco facade and clock of Shell Mex House is also featured in exterior shots.

    You might have to use Google Images to see pix.

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