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Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play - Richard III (1995)

I first ran across this film while watching the 1995-6 Oscars, oddly enough, where it was nominated for a number of different design-related awards. It didn't really register until I read the play for the first time, roughly three years later. I borrowed the film from the library and promptly fell in love.

It is sort of ironic how much I love Richard Loncraine's Richard III, considering how many of my favourite bits of the play it cuts out -- namely, Margaret. However, it is one of the few examples of an alternate-setting Shakespeare that really works for me. The 1930s setting feels very organic to this play, with Edward and Elizabeth providing a rather chilling alternate history of what might have happened of Edward VIII hadn't abdicated.

I can even forgive the excision of Margaret since it's unfortunately a choice often made in stand-alone productions of Richard III. Part of what makes Margaret amazing and powerful in this play is that she is a walking reminder of everything that has come before, but if your audience isn't familiar with even 3 Henry VI, most of what she says will make no sense at all. Yes, it's exposition and the film medium certainly allows for extensive flashback sequences to illustrate those speeches, but that would also throw off the action more than a little, so although I don't like it, I can at least understand the reasoning behind it. Plus, a lot of her best lines are given either to Elizabeth or to the Duchess of York, which makes the latter character far more prominent and her relationship with Richard foregrounded (also MAGGIE SMITH YAY).

The more-or-less opening sequence, which just sets up the play incredibly well, even if the video quality on YouTube isn't so great. Also, I adore the swing version of Marlowe's 'Passionate Shepherd'.

Although Ian McKellen is older than I imagine Richard, he's...well...he's SIR IAN. So, really, how is he anything but brilliant? He doesn't quite lose the air of menace, which is a bit of a problem, but it's very hard not to be menacing in a quasi-Nazi uniform and Hitler moustache. His Richard is a consummate politician but what makes him intimidating is the implied force behind his actions rather than his ability to persuade on its own. I don't think this is a wrong interpretation by any means (and Jon Slinger's Richard in the RSC cycle had some elements of this as well), but in my opinion, the more 'normal' Richard is, the more frightening he seems to me.

(For a more disarming take on Richard, Ron Cook in the 1983 BBC production is the way to go -- he is adorable and goofy and if he weren't completely homicidal, one would definitely want to give him hugs. Also, Zoë Wanamaker's Anne is just brilliant.)

Nigel Hawthorne is an adorably sweet Clarence (who should not be adorable or sweet, really, but when all you have are his scenes from Richard III, without his horrible, backstabbing ways in 3 Henry VI, he definitely comes off that way), and I actually love Annette Bening as Elizabeth. That they made Elizabeth and her brother both American works amazingly well in the historical context (also, Robert Downey Jr plays Rivers as a party boy and is both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious).

Act II, Scene I, where Richard courts Lady Anne

They made some alterations here as well -- instead of Henry VI's body, Anne is grieving for her husband, Edward of Lancaster. The pre-title sequence took up the events of 3 Henry VI, showing Richard killing Edward and Henry both (after driving a tank through a wall), and is actually quite a good shorthand version.

I do love the dynamic between Richard and Anne here. Kristin Scott Thomas really captures Anne's misanthropic self-loathing throughout the film, and everything about her is just aesthetically perfect. This being Ian McKellen, there are definite homosexual undertones, particularly between Richard, Tyrell and Ratcliffe, and a clear sense of sterility in Anne and Richard's marriage. They barely ever even look at one another after that first courtship scene, an acting choice that is quite effective in context.

I already linked to this on Day 12, but here it is again: Act IV, Scene IV, where Richard attempts to court Elizabeth as he courted Anne

What I love about this scene is that, although much of the women's dialogue is cut, Loncraine chose to keep most of the exchange between Richard and Elizabeth, and make it abundantly clear that she's playing him. And one of my favourite aspects of Bening's performance is that her Elizabeth, from the very beginning, is a survivor, a cautious, wary woman who knows how tenuous her position is.

The film does choose to include Elizabeth of York as a mostly silent role (and give her a few of Stanley's lines toward the end of the film), which is fine, even if it disagrees with my own interpretation of the play. Again, this is mostly a question of context -- by choosing to associate Richard himself with Fascism, the production must by default make Richmond a stand-in for the Allies. Much like Elizabeth, Richmond appears, if silently, in much of the film, and there is at least an implied prior relationship between him and Elizabeth. The one aspect of this that I particularly liked was the presence of Queen Elizabeth at the onscreen wedding, thus absolutely cementing the fact that she knew all along that she was deceiving Richard.

Although I obviously don't agree with a number of the directorial choices made in Loncraine's production, I do think it does what a feature-film version of this play ought to do -- it's entertaining, incredibly well-acted, and the alternate setting isn't just window-dressing (I'm looking at you and your ninja, Branagh). Plus, on a completely superficial note, it's just pretty.

In the end, if you're looking for a faithful, full-text adaptation with excellent acting throughout and possibly one of the most terrifying endings I have seen in Shakespeare, the 1983 BBC production is what you want. If you want a clever and interesting interpretation with a fun alternate setting, and are willing to overlook some rather egregious cuts, Loncraine is well worth a try.

Day #1: Your favourite play - Othello and Richard III
Day #2: Your favourite character - Lady Elizabeth Grey in 3 Henry VI and Richard III
Day #3: Your favourite hero - Othello
Day #4: Your favourite heroine - Juliet from Romeo and Juliet and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Day #5: Your favorite villain - Richard of Gloucester
Day #6: Your favourite villainess female villain - Joan la Pucelle
Day #7: Your favourite clown - Feste from Twelfth Night
Day #8: Your favourite comedy - Much Ado About Nothing
Day #9: Your favourite tragedy - King Lear
Day #10: Your favourite history - The Henry VI trilogy
Day #11: Your least favourite play - The Taming of the Shrew
Day #12: Your favourite scene - selections from Richard III, Othello, Much Ado, and 3 Henry VI
Day #13: Your favourite romantic scene - As You Like It, Act IV, Scene I
Day #14: Your favourite fight scene - 1 Henry IV and 3 Henry VI
Day #15: The first play you read - Romeo and Juliet
Day #16: Your first play you saw - Macbeth
Day #17: Your favourite speech - Romeo and Juliet and 3 Henry VI
Day #18: Your favourite dialogue - Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet
Day #19: Your favourite movie version of a play - Richard III (1995)
Day #20: Your favourite movie adaptation of a play
Day #21: An overrated play
Day #22: An underrated play
Day #23: A role you've never played but would love to play
Day #24: An actor or actress you would love to see in a particular role
Day #25: Sooner or later, everyone has to choose: Hal or Falstaff?
Day #26: Your favourite couple
Day #27: Your favourite couplet
Day #28: Your favourite joke
Day #29: Your favourite sonnet
Day #30: Your favourite single line
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