Richard II, 2012

dir. Rupert Goold

This is a review for episode 1 of The Hollow Crown (2012) BBC series.

 

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When considering Shakespeare-on-Screen, the first and last problem is getting the balance right between visuals (cinema) and language (stage). Shakespeare is so ingrained in the experience of theatre that tearing his lines away from an organic environment and placing them in an artificial one can often have disastrous consequences; in the past this has led to the creation of some of the most boring films ever made. And yet, what happens if you go too far with the visuals and 'subtract' from the essence of the lines? Then what? This is all too often the criticism of Baz Lurnham's Romeo & Juliet (1995). I personally, a child of the MTV generation, enjoy strong visuals but I also respect solid performances. How to get the best of both worlds?

 

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Enter Rupert Goold, Shakespearean cinemagician. Finding the perfect balance between visual aesthetics and word-centric delivery, both his films of Macbeth (2010) and Richard II stand out as true classics of The Bard on the big *TV screen. In this movie, Richard is reminiscent of Michael Jackson (monkey n' all) and rising star Ben Winshaw plays the part to perfection, weak as the character himself may be. Perhaps a few scenes did 'drag on a bit' and perhaps the movie would have benefit a lot from a few establishing shots of contemporary England but nonetheless I found it to be a tale well-told and even jolly exciting at times. Consider the 'sceptre throwing down' scene. This is notoriously one of the most excruciatingly dull moments of all Shakespeare. How could Bill steal this battle to the death from us, after so much hype? No doubt, the Elizabethan audience felt much the same and Shakespeare was doing this deliberately to make us despise Richard. Nonetheless, staying true to the text whilst using the medium of film to his advantage, Goold manages to create an excellent - even breathtaking – anti-climax and I for one was not left feeling cheated at all but rather fascinated by the King's confusion. Not to mention James Purefoy as the super aggressive Mowbray was a right laugh.

 

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Other highlights include John of Gaunt (played by another master, Patrick Stuart) delivering the This England speech. Has ever this monologue been so perfectly given out? How for another actor to improve on this, this, this muse of fyah? Astonishing and – for any true born Englishman – heart warming too. Then there is Bolingbroke condemning two of the King's yes-men to death. Kinnear (Bolingbroke) plays one of the better portrayals of the role, at first no more than an unhappy customer, all-too-quickly becoming the reluctant usurper when the self-destructive path the King is on passes him retrograde on the road to fortune. The bishops' prophesy of war is also a very alarming part of the movie, ears pricking up and hairs standing on end like the fretful porcupine as the pulsing synthesised soundtrack drives home the spookiness of his accurate predictions that war will ravage the land. I love seeing a man at the end of his tether telling it how it is. And as though all these merits were not enough, there is York played by David Suchet to consider too. David Suchet doing Shakespeare. What a treat. He is every bit as capable as any of the other Shakespeare-legends and his performance is highly engaging as the most unwilling usurper of all.

 

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All in all a bloody good effort. Seriously though, where the hell were the establishing shots? I didn't even realise the King's throneroom was meant to be at Hampton Court until my second viewing (it was meant to be Hampton Court right?) Nonetheless, it's got to be more than a 4 star show. 4 stars is HARD to get right? So this must be a really excellent movie because I won't give it anything less... but 5 stars? Hmmm.... it's a 5 star Shakespeare movie, as movies of Shakespeare go, sure. But it's not a 5 star movie-movie. So 4 it is.

 

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