Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ian McKellan's Richard 3 (1995)

Possibly the best version of Richard 3 that I’ve seen is the Ian McKellan version.

I’ve seen (and reviewed) the Olivier version and it’s okay but it’s almost painfully formal. Olivier could be a wonderful but he had a knack for not being a directorial innovator. Arthur Miller tells the story of going to the theater with Olivier and seeing a show he thought was incredibly badly directed only to find out that Olivier had done the direction.

I saw Kevin Spacey do the show on stage, and while it was played more for laughs, often a catch in your throat variety, I found it more a collection of moments around a show-offy performance. It was designed to be all about Spacey at the cost of the play.

McKellan’s version rattled cages when it first was staged. Set up as yet another modern dress version, McKellan stripped out the poetry and meter of the lines and instead had people speak not in the verse but the way we do now. The words are all there but spoken as people do. The effect is an immediacy that many other shows lack.

When the show was brought to the screen and opened up all pretention of it being a show was gone. This was story of a cup in a fascist Britian…and it’s all the better for it.

The opening scene with it’s “Now is the winter of Our Discontent made Glorious Summer by this son of York” being set in a bathroom, is both heavy handed and incredibly brilliant. Yes the irony is way too obvious but at the same time it works almost because it’s so amazing that any one would actually think to do it.

Actually the film works because the McKellan and the cast all play it pitch perfect. This is some of the finest acting I’ve seen in a Shakepearean film ever. McKellan, Annette Benning,Robert Downey Jr, Dominic West, Maggie Smith et al are wonderful. There isn't a false note in the group, even though on the face of it (and especially at the time) you would  think there should be.

What I love is that ten minutes in the fim ceases to be Shakespeare or a Shakespearean adaption, the story we are seeing is just a story not anything with any baggage.

The film is a masterpiece. If you've never seen it you should, especially if you don't like Shakespeare...

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