A Film Rumination: Richard III, Richard Loncraine (1995)

8/10 (Very Good)

Richard Loncraine’s Richard III is an inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play by the same name.  Instead of a late medieval setting, we’re greeted with an industrial, 1920s-1940s aesthetic (beautiful cars, haunting smoke stacks, bleak factories etc).  England itself has been transformed into a Fascist state (the emblems, the flags, the uniforms).

I’ve always been receptive to unusual adaptations of Shakespeares works (Titus, for example) — I feel that Shakespeare’s plots, characters, and themes are so archetypal that they function in just about any setting.  In this case, much of the original plays has been modified and manipulated for cinema.  Purists will obviously be bothered by the drastic reconceptualization.  However, this is an visually fascinating, extraordinarily well-acted (the all-star cast lives up to the billing), and visceral experience.

Plot Summary (limited spoilers)

I suspect most of you are familiar with the plot of Shakespeare’s play.  But if you’re not, here’s a brief recap.  The evil Richard (Ian Mckellen at his best) desires the throne above all else.  Along with his various henchmen, he slowly has his rivals murdered (including two of his young nephews whom he had sequestered in the tower) and schemes and double crosses and, unsurprisingly, dies in battle.

If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s the magnificent beginning sequence: the quiet, then the deep breaths, the soldiers with gas masks, the tank crashing through the wall, the the fatal gun shot…  None of the following scene live up to the shocking beginning.  The film ends on a somewhat rushed note.  I feel that the battle sequence could have been played out a tad bit more….

Final Thoughts

My favorite aspect of the film is above all the re-imagined setting.  This definitely gives the film an unusual feel.  One does not imagine a strange Fascist alternative England where the people speak the lines of Shakespeare.  The uncanny feeling is perfectly matched by the dark undertones and the extreme sadistic edge of Richard.  The scene where Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas) enters the hospital morgue and cries over husband’s body only to be wooed by a few moments later by her husband’s murderer Richard sums up the experience…  writhing undercurrents of dread.  Everything combines perfectly — Richard III shines through in all his dark glory.

I recommend Richard III even for those who are uncomfortable with a re-imagined/manipulated Shakespeare since it functions as a film rather than a spruced up theater production. It is a truly wonderful experience….

I wish it was 30 minutes longer…

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10 thoughts on “A Film Rumination: Richard III, Richard Loncraine (1995)”

  1. Nice review, sir. I watched the first 15 minutes or so of this (specifically the “Now is the winter of our discontent” opener) for a project I did in a Shakespeare class, but never got to view the whole thing. Now I really want to.

  2. Thanks — first super mainstream film I’ve reviewed in a while! Haha, some are great — like this one. I prefer the esoteric edges (as you know) — but, this was fun and nice and gritty. One of the best Shakespeare adaptations I’ve seen….

    Have you seen Taymor’s Titus? Are you tempted to see her new film, The Tempest?

  3. Haven’t seen that Titus, although I’ve read interesting things. I saw her “Across the Universe” and really didn’t care for it (on that note, I’m thinking of doing either a series of posts or just one big one on “Movies people love that I swear to God aren’t that good” and that one will be on the list. With The Tempest, though, that cast alone makes me want to see it. The reviews I’ve read so far haven’t been promising but we shall see.

  4. Chris: I’m embarrassed to say, but the only new movie coming out which I really want to see is TRON: Legacy (and, The Tempest) — hahaha

    My sister loved Across the Universe but I’ve not seen it…

    I think you should have a weekly post like that — not all at one time — people probably won’t read the whole thing.

  5. I had to watch Across the Universe a few times before I could really warm up to it. At first it seemed to me to be another “standing on the shoulders of other musicians” piece but it really was not. It included the political commentary that most people do not even consider when thinking about the works of the Beatles.

    I would love to see The Tempest but I live in a rather rural area so I might have to wait for DVD. I always found Caliban to be a very interesting character.

  6. I was poking around your site when I noticed you had reviewed this film. It’s my favorite Shakespeare adaptation. It is both glamorous and grim at the same time. It also had me smiling wryly as Sir Ian Mckellan delivered Shakespeare while standing at a urinal (spoiler?).

  7. It’s my favorite Shakespeare adaptation as well! And yes, that’s a great great scene — although the best (in my opinion) is the hospital morgue seduction scene. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I haven’t seen this film since it was first released but I enjoyed it, perhaps time to see it again. Joachim, have you seen the version of “Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart? It would make a good pairing, as it is also set in a 1930s Soviet-style Britain, much of it in claustrophobic underground bunkers. It’s available on streaming Netflix.

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