Richard III, 1995

dir. Richard Loncraine

Ian McKellen’s viscous Richard explodes out of the screen like a bundle of TNT detonated in a wild-boar’s stomach; grotesque, harrowing and bloody magnificent. He fiendishly sucks cigarettes from start to finish as though they were the straw of a life-support machine, uttering his traitorous villainy through mouthfuls of curling smoke, his purple sun-glasses hiding the devil that churns in his hollow eyes.

 

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An all-star cast means that performances are consistently entertaining; Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man) makes for a wonderful play-boy style Rivers, Maggie Smith is a mean old hard nosed b*tch of a mother, Jim Broadbent (Gangs of New-York, Harry Potter, Moulin Rouge) is a delightfully amusing and tragically hopeless Buckingham and perhaps my favourite performance is by Kristin Scott Thomas (Mission Impossible, The English Patient, The Horse Whisperer, Four Weddings and a Funeral) who apart from being exceptionally beautiful (for a lady who doesn’t have to expose her self, she’s hot stuff!) also makes a completely believable Anne, which if you know the circumstances under which Richard seduces her you will know is no easy task. Even Dominic West (McNulty from The Wire) puts in an appearance as the detestably likeable Richmond.

 

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In my opinion this is a four star film. It’s certainly better than your average flick – aside from being Shakespeare – and it’s very entertaining but to say it was a five star film would be an injustice to other great movies which make an impact. It is not as good as The Godfather, okay? This is just a damn cool movie, which is no humble ambition. Certainly, it’s a silver star on the parade uniform of Shakespearean cinema.

So, why not the full whack? Despite this film certainly being one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare thus far it lacks a certain something for me and I think I know what it is; the sets, costumes, haircuts, cinematography etc. are all superb Hollywood standard but dare I say it as surely as Sir Ian McKellen is a tried and proven top-top-top-notch Shakespearean actor, it is true that I myself find his performance of Richard - although executed with great flare and swagger! - an enemy to the audience; perhaps it was deliberate but there is something uncannily distant about this Richard. I find that despite him being a really nasty piece of work there has always been a strange kind of ‘intimacy’ Gloucester shares with us, an intimacy, a likeable-ness McKellen is deprived of. I personally felt this resulted in an ‘incomplete’ connection with the audience. To be fair, he does play the card once in the movie and perhaps that was his specific intention all along (to render the moment when he did engage with his true feelings unique and special?): the ‘post-visitation’ speech before the final battle is the one I am referring to. The 20 minute epic battlefield shoot out at the end is also very wholesome and rewarding. I particularly like the John McClean ‘Die Hard’ faces he pulls throughout. That face, that chilling twinkle in his eye, that heartless grinding of the teeth, flaring of the nostrils and tilting of the head – that is the face of Shakespeare’s Richard... just without a heart.

 

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My favourite scene of the film is Clarence’s dream – Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George, Demolition Man) tells the story of his nightmare to a heart-rendering score as the rain begins to lash down upon him and something in the fear of his voice is truly very moving.

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