Richard III
directed by Richard Loncraine
(United Artists, 1995)

Shakespeare's vile King Richard III is reborn in the 1930s in this masterful movie reinterpretation.

There is royal strife in England in the jazz age, the aftermath of the Roaring '20s, the days before Hitler began his march across Europe. The House of York has stolen the throne, but the country thrives in the aftermath of that civil war. But Richard is not content to be the younger brother of a king, and his machinations soon embroil his brothers George and King Edward -- and the extended royal family -- in a tempest of ambition and murder.

Ian McKellen is extraordinary in the role of the misshapen Richard. His plots are devious and yet he exhibits keen glee as he pierces the fourth wall and reveals his intentions to the audience ... and as the bodies pile up around him. It is a disturbing story, with shades of Hitler in the evil Richard's rise.

Backing him is an excellent cast, including John Wood as the elderly Edward, Nigel Hawthorne as George, Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth, Robert Downey Jr. as her brother Anthony, Jim Broadbent as the Duke of Buckingham, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, Maggie Smith as the Duchess of York and Adrian Dunbar as the murderous Tyrell.

The costumes, sets and mannerisms are perfect for the era, so much so that Shakespeare's lines never seem out of place. The text flows smoothly, the meaning always plain.

This rendition of Richard III is powerful and well made. It is a worthy addition to Shakespeare's video library.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 19 April 2002

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