A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Richard III (1995)

September 12, 2010

Richard III

I chose to put this movie in tonight because it is such a stark contrast to the production we watched yesterday. In almost every regard it is entirely different. Where the version of Macbeth we watched yesterday was almost unabridged this adaptation of the Shakespeare is severely truncated. Yesterday’s production was spare with no sets and hardly any props, whereas this is an enormous and lush affair with a huge cast, location shots, complex sets and even special effects.

It’s also fun to contrast the roles that Ian McKellen plays in the two films. Both Macbeth and Richard III are tales of a man who murders his way to a throne, but they are very different in temperament. Macbeth is a man driven, maddened by the deeds that won him the crown. That was the appeal of the movie we watched yesterday: that Ian McKellen so wonderfully captured that madness and that drive. In tonight’s movie however he portrays Richard III, who is a wholly unapologetic villain.

Right from the beginning Richard is bent only on death and chaos. His “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue is all about how he is a man ill suited to peace, so he will endeavour to end peace for everybody he knows. There is one scene late in the film where he wakes from a nightmare, but his concern is more that his plots will have come to nothing and his reign as king is threatened. He never seems to tire of the bloodletting, even when he commands the murder of his young nephews.

Ian clearly relishes the chance to play such a villain. He has distilled the original play to contain only the most bloodthirsty and horrible parts. (Ian McKellen shares a screenplay credit for the adaptation, so it’s not just his performance but the very script itself that he uses to craft the character.) He speaks often directly to the camera with a wink and an uneven smile. Really this is the charm of the whole movie. The way Richard is played implies that in his mind he is the hero of the movie. He’s slimy, creepy and underhanded and well aware of it, but he takes delight in the mayhem he creates. Clearly he thinks himself far more clever than everybody around him, taking a special delight in wooing the women he most wrongs. It’s the sparkle in his shifty eye that makes the movie fun to watch, right to its very end.

The other spectacular thing about this movie is the lush art design. The concept behind the adaptation is that the whole play has been transposed to the nineteen thirties. As Richard rises to power an increasingly fascist look comes to the kingdom, right up to a scene which borrows strongly from the aesthetic of Hitler’s Germany. The music too is borrowed from that time period. The costumes and sets are elaborate and impressive. And the entire production concludes with a battle scene using tanks and jeeps, smoke pots, squibs and pyrotechnics. It’s not necessarily an epic battle scene on a Lord of the Rings scale, but it’s still an extreme contrast to the black box of what we watched yesterday.

If pressed I think I would have to say that I prefer the 1978 Macbeth we watched yesterday. This movie is far more visually arresting, but it doesn’t have the emotional impact. The way that is distills the play down to just its bare bones (something we’ll talk about again when we reach Titus) and the way it winks at the viewer leaves it feeling more Hollywood in its nature. The performances are all great, but they don’t haunt you and stay in your brain the way that those in yesterday’s movie did. Over brunch this morning Amanda and I talked about how that version of Macbeth got inside your head and stayed with you. I enjoy this movie, and Ian McKellen’s performance in particular, but it doesn’t resonate in the same way.

September 12, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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