Friday, 17 June 2016

Richard III (1995)

Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellan’s cracking movie adaptation of Richard Eyre’s National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s play gets a Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of the BFI.
We’re in an alternate history version of England in the 1930s. The houses of Lancaster and York are battling for the throne while the scheming Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Ian McKellen) is plotting his own route to power. Torture and death pave his way to the throne, and when he eventually gets there, an already fascistic United Kingdom becomes even more dictatorial.

There are plenty of movie adaptations of Shakespeare out there. The best include Polanski’s MACBETH (still my favourite) and Baz Luhrman’s ROMEO & JULIET (which provided an entirely successful modern updating). This version of RICHARD III deserves to be up there as well. Running at 104 minutes you’re not going to get the entire play, but you do get a lot of cleverness, some stunning location work, and great performances from a cast of well-known faces.
Fans of horror and SF will find their viewing rewarded as well. As well as the whole Philip K Dick, Keith Roberts etc alternate history setting, you get to see Robert Downey, Jr die in a scene that could have been pinched from Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH. Richard’s famous ‘Now is the winter...’ speech is cleverly split between public performance and the immediate privacy of the men’s toilets, this latter setting giving us plot divulgence by a mechanism similar to that used in Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING.

Before that speech, however, we get seven minutes of action. Director Richard Loncraine (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA / FULL CIRCLE) was keen to ensure that even if the Shakespearean dialogue couldn’t be followed (it can, by the way) what was happening onscreen would be obvious. I actually think he’s done a terrific job, because you could almost watch this with the sound turned down and you can pretty much tell exactly what’s going on. So if you find the prospect of a Shakespeare movie a bit daunting but still want to see the likes of Jim Broadbent being strangled and Nigel Hawthorne meeting an end admittedly more similar to Marat than the Duke of Clarence, you should have no fears about giving this a go.

The BFI’s disc also contains a lengthy (79 minute) lecture by Ian McKellan delivered at the NFT earlier this year entitled Shakespeare on Stage, Screen and Eleswhere. There’s a six minute making of that’s worth a look if only to see how some of the London locations were turned into interiors in the movie. Ian McKellan and Richard Loncraine are in conversation with Francine Stock for a 21 minute piece also recorded earlier this year at the NFT, and there’s also a feature length commentary from the two of them that made me wish they would have a go at something else together as they obviously work well.
              The DVD also contains the annotated screenplay as a pdf, and last but not least you get a BFI booklet that contains a massive 31 page essay by McKellan that’s well worth a read. Another excellent package from the BFI of a film that absolutely deserves this kind of presentation. 

The Ian McKellan-Richard Loncraine RICHARD III is out on DVD & Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 20th June 2016

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