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18 April 2006

Richard III (1995)

Ian McKellen (Richard III), Annette Bening (Elizabeth), Jim Broadbent (Buckingham), Robert Downey Jr. (Rivers)

Directed by Richard Loncraine (Firewall)

From IMDB: "The classic Shake- spearian play about a murderously scheming king staged in an alternative fascist England setting."

My interest in Richard is waning after over-exposure, so here I present a brief run-down of observations about the nature of this production, particularly the portrayal of certain characters.

Richard: McKellen playfully, maliciously portrays Richard with no serious attempt at realism. This is pure melodrama and theater. As such, McKellen renders a much more ruthless Richard than would a "serious" portrayal, where realism necessitates some mediation between the character's highs and lows as he swings from sadistic joy to crippling paranoia. Brilliant, savvy, energetic acting.

Lady Anne: Her decision to marry Richard is based on a latent death wish. That makes sense! And her accelerating drug use fits perfectly as Richard destroys her soul.

Rivers: Who believes that the middle-class brother to a queen consort would possibly partake in the excesses of his newly-endowed titles? And to be portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. of all people! The man is a saint, and his interpretation of Rivers is completely out of keeping with his public persona.... ahem.

Elizabeth: I got it right, apparently, when I concluded that Elizabeth never actually agreed to consign her daughter to a life as Richard's wife. She tells Richard what he wants to hear, but Shakespeare did not include a scene where her acquiescence is portrayed in fact. Bening's Elizabeth says she will, as per usual, but then she happily watches over the marriage between Richmond and her daughter. The filmmakers did a nice job of tweaking the order of certain events to leave this Elizabeth completely without taint and in full possession of her willful backbone.

Richmond: He won because he got laid before battle. Makes sense to me.

Tyrrel: For the sake of brevity, and to intensify the fascist elements of this interpretation, McKellen and Loncraine merged several minor characters to create the über-hitman, Tyrrel. In Shakespeare's drama, Tyrrel is responsible for killing only the two young princes, and he expresses remorse afterwards. Here, Tyrrel becomes the executioner to five different characters and never says a word about regrets or moralistic doubts. Where there is murder to be done, Tyrrel is the man to do it. He exists as the representation of every pitbull SS lock-step henchman who ever committed acts of atrocity for the sake of another individual's rule. Scary, actually.

Ratcliff: In Shakespeare's play, Ratcliff is just another pro-Richard supporter. One of few, Ratcliff's loyalty never wavers. But why? Every other character has cause to support Richard when they see personal power to be gained, but they promptly abandon him when his downfall is apparent or his hold over their safety is relinquished and they can betray him without fear of losing their lives. Yet Ratcliff stays. McKellen, who is openly gay, presents a very subtle explanation.

Ratcliff is Richard's... special friend. He massages Richard's deformed arm, eliciting moans of pleasure from his liege. He is the last one to depart Richard's tent the night before Bosworth Field, after serving Richard his supper and wine. The suggestion of an intimacy between them also fits with Richard's overt rejection of Anne during her drug-induced play for his masculine attention. Then, too, the sexual dichotomy is more forcefully implied: Richmond, who finds satisfaction with his nubile young wife the night before battle, is victorious, while Richard, who denies Ratcliff's company and suffers a fretful evening of nightmares, is vanquished.

Hmmmm.... I wonder if that was what Shakespeare had in mind?

Blogger Pacze Moj said...

There's seems to be a bit of a cinematic trend of fishing out homosexuality from Shakespeare's plays. Michael Radford's adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is a recent one. Interestingly, IMDB's trivia for the film states that McKellan was initially set to appear in it, too.

Blogger Diva Kitty's Mom said...

I loved this film. The perfect modernization of the bard, unlike Taymor's nightmare.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Titus? Because I'm gonna watch that one soon enough...

Blogger Diva Kitty's Mom said...

Yep Titus, visually amazing - massive over-acting.


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