Revival of "Richard III"

March 21, 2007, midnight | By Iliya Smithka | 16 years, 11 months ago

Modern Shakespeare adaptation is classic

In the winter of their discontent, the English royal family is plagued by assaults and plots from within and outside the family. Fickle friends turn to foes, and in the worst possible way: murder one another. Richard III's experience is one of the more infamous of these as it was immortalized by Shakespeare's historical tragedy "Richard III."

The 1995 adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III," directed by Richard Loncraine, sets the story in England during the 1930s and echoes the German political throes of that time. Ian McKellen, who wrote the screenplay, stars as the titular villain, the power-hungry Richard of York who seizes the throne while the country is embroiled in civil war. The gritty retelling of the classic play is so realistic it could be a war movie that is seamless in its incorporation of the Shakespearean words.

The adaptation opens with Richard storming the stronghold of Edward of Westminster (Christopher Bowen), the Prince of Wales, and killing both him and his father in a raid, which allows for his brother Edward (John Wood) to assume the throne. Richard, the youngest brother, is jealous of Edward's kingship, plotting against him with the Duke of Buckingham (Jim Broadbent). Along the way, he manages to seduce and marry the late Prince Edward's wife, Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas), who knows that marrying her husband's killer seals her fate.

Lady Anne is naturally distraught over Richard's attentions and intention to marry, and though he wins her over, she quickly realizes her mistake and turns to drugs to escape from the bitter reality of Richard's politics. Richard is especially malicious, sowing fear and hate wherever he goes, breeding discord and fantasies of revenge to split up his enemies recruit loyal followers. There is no room for pity let alone sympathy for the vile his character as he emotionlessly orders the murders of his young nephews. Even when his mother (Maggie Smith) renounces him for killing off members of the family, Richard does not even flinch.

Though some might have reservations adapting the Bard's second-longest play, McKellen and Loncraine stay true to the story. The acting brings the work to life as though it was the first telling of the centuries-old story. McKellen is deliciously evil as the merciless Richard, capturing the essence of the ambitious general and playing him with every fiber of his body. Thomas as the desperate Anne thrives as her character sinks depression and eventually resignation to her fate. Annette Bening is superb as Richard's hysterical sister-in-law Elizabeth, a witness and victim to his cruel thoroughness in extinguishing his rivals. When Richard proposes to marry her daughter, she seems to agree willingly enough, only to thwart his dastardly plans later on.

In addition to the traditional acting, the costumes and art direction are classic, too; the movie was nominated for Academy Awards in costume design and art direction in 1996. The uniforms and gowns of the 1930s are consistently flawless. As Lady Anne, Thomas's movie-star beauty is always elegantly dressed and Richard is appropriately militant. The palaces and the Tower – the royal family's prison in London – are spectacularly stunning and bleak, respectively, and the battle scenes that open and close the film seem to be taken directly from World War II.

"Richard III," a timeless play and adapts itself to the screen so masterfully that the film is a classic itself. The dark story of murder and politics is just as gripping now as it was in Shakespeare's time when it was based on the true historical events of the War of Roses in the 1400s. Part of the Shakespeare in Cinema festival, the movie is playing at the AFI for a short time as part of the city-wide celebration Shakespeare in Washington. Also playing are "Throne of Blood," "Ran" and "Shakespeare Behind Bars."

"Richard III" is 104 minutes long and rated R for violence and sexuality. It is playing at the AFI Silver on Wed. Mar. 21 at 8:45 p.m. and Thurs. Mar. 22 at 9 p.m. as the AFI's part of Shakespeare in Washington.

Iliya Smithka. Iliya Smithka will graduate from neither the CAP nor the Magnet Program. However, she somehow managed to get a decent education. While representing no particular program during her stint on Silver Chips Online, Iliya was a spectacular staff writer, although she never really mastered the … More »

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