Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Richard III 1995
Based on the play by William Shakespeare Director: Richard Loncraine Richard III: Ian McKellen Queen Elizabeth: Annette Bening King Edward: John Wood Buckingham: Jim Broadbent Rivers: Robert Downey Jr. Clarence: Nigel Hawthorne Hastings: Jim Carter Lady Anne: Kristin Scott Thomas Duchess of York: Maggie Smith Prince Edward: Christopher Bowen Ratcliffe: Bill Paterson Photo Copyright: Greg Gorman
Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen have adapted Shakespeare's Richard
III for the big screen and put the characters and action into an imaginary
fascist Europe and England of the 1930s. The Swing music and the art deco
style of the settings belong to the period. Civil War divides the nation.
The King is under attack from the rebel York family, who are fighting to
place their eldest son, Edward, on the throne. Edward's army advances,
led by his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The film starts
with a scene in which a telex is announcing that Richard is marching towards
the adversary's headquarters. A tank crashes into a room. Soldiers storm
in. Richard kills King Henry (Edward Jewesbury) and his heir apparent.
In contrast, the next scene shows the peaceful life in a palace. The York
family celebrates its victory, Edward is King. But this idyllic situation
won't last for long. The ambitious Richard, deformed from birth, wants
to rule himself. Therefore, a lot of people (from his own family) have
to die. To the end of the drama, Richard III fights for his life and almost
whispers the famous line: "A horse, a horse, a kingdom for a horse". As
he dies, happy Swing music starts (I'm Sitting On Top of the World).
Looking directly into the eye of the camera, Ian McKellen (Richard III)
confides his machinations to the audience, making them Richard's confidants
and drawing them directly into the drama."Richard, the consummate liar,
always speaks the truth to the audience, but only to them," McKellen emphasizes.
"That is meant to be disarming for an audience, because they alone are
privy to what he intends to do, and they become accomplices [in] his schemes."
Mc Kellen is sensational in his role as Richard. The majority of actors
are convincing, for instance Jim Broadbent as Buckingham, Jim Carter as
Prime Minister Lord Hastings, Nigel Hawthorne as Clarene and Maggie Smith
as the Duchess of York, Richard's mother.
As always, there is the author's original play, and there is the
to the big screen. The film is a work of art by itself and therefore should
not always and in every detail be compared to the underlying play. Still,
what is disturbing is the fact that the dialogues in the film are severely
cut and therefore Shakespeare's sense for the development of the story
sometimes gets lost. The film rushes more or less from one murder to another.
But of course, some of them are perfectly staged, for instance the murder
of Rivers (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the midst of a sex scene comes completely
Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth and Robert Downey, Jr. as her brother,
Rivers, are distinctly and intentionally portrayed as Americans. McKellen
explained that he wanted "Queen Elizabeth and her brother to be played
as Americans for several reasons. In the original story, they are strangers
to the social camp of the King and Richard. A modern equivalent for the
1930s setting seemed to me in contrasting the British royals with a couple
of Americans whose manners and voices are different, and of whom the Brits
would be suspicious." McKellen added that "Far too often American actors
copy an English accent in order to do Shakespeare. That really is such
a pity because Shakespeare's own accent was probably closer to a North
American one than to a modern English accent." Despite these explanations,
Annette Bening is not convincing in her role as Queen Elizabeth. It seemed
as if she was not able to handle Shakespeare's words in a natural way -
like the British actors did.
Actor Ian McKellen played Richard III on a world tour with the Royal
National Theatre. He wanted to "make a Shakespeare film that could be accessible
to as wide an audience as possible, and it seems we have achieved that
with this film." McKellen is right: at times Richard III is almost
like an action movie. A John Woo film - with great dialogues added. Despite
the mentioned failures and liberties taken, Richard III is a great
and at times shocking drama, cinema at its best, with colours, costumes,
decor, music, action and actors wisely put together.
Biography of Ian McKellen
Ian Murray McKellen was born in 1939 in Burnley, the northern English
mill-town where his father Denis Murray was a civil engineer. An early
fascination with theatre was encouraged by his parents, who took him on
a family outing to "Peter Pan" at Manchester Opera House when he was 3.
At all his schools he acted, most crucially for Frank Greene, the senior
English master at Bolton School. Bolton School, where McKellen was a student,
further encouraged the tyro actor at the Hopefield Miniature Theatre. This
converted Edwardian house had an auditorium for 50 adoring parents and a tiny stage for puppetry,
one-act entertainments in French or translated from the Greek or written
especially by the teachers. In one of these latter, McKellen made the first
of very few appearances in drag, as a Bolton mill-girl who cheats her way
to the finale of a beauty contest ("The Beauty Contest " by Leonard Roe.)
His first Shakespeare performance was at Hopefield, as a 13 year old Malvolio
in the letter scene from "Twelfth Night."
Each summer, he attended the school's camp to Stratford-upon-Avon. In
the evening, he saw Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Charles Laughton
and John Gielgud in Shakespeare plays. He won an exhibition to read English
at St. Catherine's College. This honour was withdrawn after two years.
By then, he had acted in 21 undergraduate productions. He began to be noted
by the national press. When he graduated a Bachelor of Arts in 1961, he
had decided to become an actor ("I wasn't fit for anything else!")
and without going to drama school made his first performance as Roper in
the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry's production of "A Man for All Seasons".
Besides his career as a theatre actor, Ian McKellan has appeared in more
than 20 films since 1966. He is gay, a vegetarian and a supporter of New
Ian McKellen. photo copyright: McKellen.
Biography of William Shakespeare
Park Honan, Emeritus Professor at the School of English, University
of Leeds, has written a widely acclaimed biography of William Shakespeare
(Shakespeare: A Life. OUP, 1999). He has written an "up-to-date
report on the available facts" for the general public, and added "new and
relevant material." He tried to separate facts from myths and errors. Honan
sheds new light on Shakespeare's youth. He has also profited from recent
research on local records and documents. Where Honan has no evidence on
Shakespeare's life, he does not try to imagine how it could have been,
but describes other children, men and families with similar background
of his time. Regarding Shakespeare's death, Honan comes to the conclusion
that he died from typhoid fever. The biography is rich in detail and written
with literary skill, but always remains easily readable.
Richard III (1995) by Richard Loncraine. Starring Ian McKellen, Annette
Bening, et al. Get it on DVD from Amazon.com
or VHS from Amazon.com.
Park Honan: Shakespeare: A Life. Hardcover, OUP, 1999, 479 p.
Get the biography from Amazon.com.
See also: William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Stanley Wells
(ed.), et al., Oxford, 1986.