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on 23 May 2011
A great cast. A truly great play.Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Robert Downey Jr.I agree that there ought to be another release of this fine production as it was produced in English after all.As that doesn't exist at present this is the one to watch!
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on 18 March 2014
My initial review of this film was a touch mis-informed; you *can* get English language versions of this sans-subtitles on DVD but they aren't plentiful or cheap, and the film isn't in the shops. I've no idea why.

Because this is great Shakespeare on film - it's on the same level as Brannagh's Henry V, Feinnes' Coriolanus, Olivier's Hamlet - it should not only be on the shelves of HMV, it should be on school curricula. If anyone knows of any way to bring pressure to bear on the right person to get this situation changed, please do let me know. United Artists don't even pretend to be open to dialogue.

To refer to the cast as 'stellar' is almost to devalue the word - not just Ian McKellen (Maybe the film's being witheld because it would be wrong to let stupid people see the actor that went on to play Gandalf here playing a villain) - Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Tim McInerny, Jim Carter, Bill Patterson, Adrian Dunbar, Michael Elphick - and Annette Bening and Robert Downey jnr - but look at the roll call on IMDB; the only adult speaking part not to be played by a star is 'Subaltern' played by David Antrobus.

Admittedly the script is pared down to the basics, but at least most of the words are Shakespeare, though the addition of 'Prime Minister' will annoy some purists, as will the interpolation of a line from Henry VI 3, but it is worth bearing in mind that Richard III is a very long play and if you want to find out how long just take a look at The BBC production starring Ron Cook, because that's the uncut text.

And there's not a doublet nor a pair of hose in sight - it's set in the 1930s, in a fantasy England with a King Edward, where Royal Palace looks just like St Pancras Station but is on the south shore of the Thames, Battersea Power Station may be glimpsed, through binoculars, from the south coast, and the Tower of London is Bankside Power Station. On top of the rest of the lovely things to look at, there is some satisfaction to be gained from spotting London locations. The interior of Richard's new Art Deco HQ is a couple of miles from its outside, for instance.

The film started out as an exercise in preserving Mr McKellen's National Theatre production, and it is clearly something of a labour of love, with the star laden cast turning out for far less than they might have expected; one of the recurring themes in McKellan's wonderful accompanying book (the annotated screenplay) is just how generous the company were in terms of commitment to getting the film made. One of my favourite stories is that of the only set used in the film - the field headquarters that opens the movie - was one rescued from the BBC furnaces, and then destroyed on film in this; it makes for a fantastic first scene - the Battle of Tewkesbury reduced to a tank coming through the wall and six commandoes - one of whom, of course, is Richard. The rest is all filmed on location.
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on 29 October 2010
This is, of course, one of the most innovative interpretations of Richard III and I can't add anything to the other reviews about the performance.

BUT!!!!! this is a German DVD and it does play in English, only at the expense of having German subtitles which can't be switched off. I find this very distracting. Currently, there doesn't seem to be any other recording available, so I have to put up with it.
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on 1 June 2005
A gala ball: The York family celebrate their reascent to power; the War of Roses (named for the feuding houses' heraldic badges: Lancaster's red and York's white rose) is almost over. Actually, the year is 1471, but for present purposes, we're in the 1930s. A singer delivers a swinging "Come live with me and be my love." Richard of Gloucester (Sir Ian McKellen), the reinstated sickly King Edward IV's (John Wood's) youngest brother, moves through the crowd; observing, watching his second brother George, Duke of Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) being quietly led off by Tower warden Brackenbury (Donald Sumpter) and his subalterns. With Clarence gone, Richard seizes the microphone, its discordant screech cutting through the singer's applause, and he, who himself made this night possible by killing King Henry VI of Lancaster and his son at Tewkesbury, begins a victory speech: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York" (cut to Edward, who regally acknowledges the tribute). But when Richard mentions "grim-visaged war," who "smooth'd his wrinkled front," the camera closes in on his mouth, turning it into a grimace reminiscent of the legend known to any spectator in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre: that he wasn't just born "with his feet first" but also "with teeth in his mouth;" hence, not only crippled (though whether also hunchbacked is uncertain) but cursed from birth, his physical deformity merely outwardly representing his inner evil.
Then, mid-sentence, the image cuts again. Richard enters a bathroom; and as he continues his monologue we see that only now, relieving himself and talking - with narcissistic pleasure - to his own image in the mirror, he truly speaks his mind; contemptuously dismissing a war that's lost its menace and "capers nimbly in a lady's bedchamber," and determining that, since he now has no delight but to mock his own deformed shadow, and "cannot prove a lover," he'll "prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days."
Thus, Richard's first soliloquy, which actually opens the play on a London street, brilliantly demonstrates the signature elements of this movie's (and the preceding stage production's) success: not only its updated 20th century context but its creative use of settings and imagery; boldly cutting and rearranging Shakespeare's words without anytime, however, betraying his intent. Indeed, that pattern is already set with the prologue's murder of King Henry VI and his son, where following a telegraph report that "Richard of Gloucester is at hand - he holds his course toward Tewkesbury" (slightly altered lines from the preceding "King Henry VI"'s last scenes) Richard himself emerges from a tank breaking through the royal headquarters' wall, breathing heavily through a gas mask: As his shots ring out, riddling the prince with bullets, the blood-red letters R-I-C-H-A-R-D-III appear across the screen.
And as creatively it continues: Richard woos Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas), Henry's daughter-in-law, in a morgue instead of a street (near her husband's casket), and later drives her into drug abuse. Henry's Cassandra-like widow Margaret is one of several characters omitted entirely; whereas foreign-born Queen Elizabeth is purposely cast with an American (Annette Benning), whose performance has equally purposeful overtones of Wallis Simpson; and whose playboy-brother Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr.) dies "in the act." Clarence is murdered while the rest of the family sits down to a lavish (although discordant) dinner. When upon Richard's ally Lord Buckingham's (Jim Broadbent's) machinations, he is "persuaded" to take the crown, he emerges from a veritable film star's dressing room complete with full-sized mirror and manicurists (sold to the attending crowd outside as "two deep divines" praying with him). Tyrrell (Adrian Dunbar), already one of Clarence's murderers, quickly rises through uniformed ranks as he further bloodies his hands. Richard's and Elizabeth's final spar over her daughter's hand takes place in the train-wagon serving as his field headquarters; and we actually see that same princess wed to his arch-enemy Richmond (Dominic West), King Henry VII-to-be and founder of the Tudor dynasty, with lines taken from Richmond's closing monologue. Perhaps most importantly, we also witness Richard's coronation, which Shakespeare himself - honoring that ceremony's perception as holy - decided not to show; although even here it is presented not as a glorious procedure of state but only in a brief snippet rerun immediately from the distance of a private, black-and-white film shown only for Richard's and his entourage's benefit.
And challenging as this project is, its stellar cast - also including Maggie Smith (a formidable Duchess of York), Jim Carter (Prime Minister Lord Hastings), Roger Hammond (the Archbishop), and Tim McInnerny and Bill Paterson (Richard's underlings Catesby and Ratcliffe) - uniformly prove themselves more than up to the task.
Even if the temporal setting didn't already spell out the allegory on the universality of evil that McKellen and director Richard Loncraine obviously intend, you'd have to be blind to miss the visual references to fascism: the uniforms, the gathering modeled on the infamous Nuremberg Reichsparteitag, the long red banners with a black boar in a white circle (playing up the image of the boar Shakespeare himself uses: similarly, Richard's and Tyrrell's first meeting is set in a pig-sty, and Lord Stanley's [Edward Hardwicke's] prophetic dream follows an incident where Richard, for a split-second, loses his self-control). But the imagery goes even further: Richard's narcissism is reminiscent of Chaplin's "Great Dictator;" and you don't have to watch this movie contemporaneously with the latest "Star Wars" installment to visualize Darth Vader during his gas mask-endowed entry in the first scene.
"[T]hus I clothe my naked villany with odd old ends stol'n out of holy writ; and seem a saint when most I play the devil," Richard comments in the play: if there's one line I regret to see cut it's the one so clearly encompassing the way many a modern despot assumes power, too; by cloaking his true intent in the veneer of formal legality. Even so: this is a highlight among the recent Shakespeare adaptations; under no circumstances to be missed.
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on 7 August 2002
Producing Shakespeare in a fascist setting is not exactly original, but it really works with this film as it is merely a suitable backdrop to a very dark tale of one man's scheming, opportunism & driving ambition. The (original) script is actually lightened by the 1930s feel, eg the authentic-sounding rendition of a sonnet set to 30s dance music in the ballroom scene is terrific, and McKellan's twinkle-eye cheeky asides when he tells us what dastardly deed he is planning next. The rest of the cast is almost universally excellent, with performances ranging from sophisticated Coward-style interplay to occasional flashes of extreme violence. All in all a very gripping production, which may not please traditionalists, but will more than delight anyone with a real interest in theatre and a good story well told.
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on 23 July 2006
The cast list reads like a who's who, which can occasionally make one a little sceptical. However, this is a wonderful brought-about production. The whole film is worth it for Ian McKellen's turning to the camera and saying 'well I'm not made of stone...'

Beautifully dry yet inspiringly wonderful. Buy it.
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on 7 December 2007
This is probably about ten percent of the original dialogue, and therefore it rolls along at a terrific pace. Having Richard arrive in a tank through a wall, must be the most dynamic entrance of any character in a Shakespeare play. You can suddenly see the origins of the pantomime Wicked Uncle figure in this piece as well, when he croons over the departing Little Princes 'So wise so young they say do never live long, come-let's to supper.' Fabulous! Don't miss it.
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on 29 December 2001
Shakespeare does not always adapt well to cinema. This, however, is a stunning and quite sublime adaptation. The cast is quite outstanding (Ian McKellen proving now that Gandalf in Lord of the Rings is not his first great performance). The TRUE genius, though, is from Richard Loncraine, Director. Loncraine has long been associated with the very best of British and American drama (Brimstone and Treacle, and Band of Brothers where he directed undoubtedly the finest part, episode 2, being two better known examples). The dark and powerful nature of this play is brought out in the most profound manner by Loncraine who confirms his place as one Britain's - and therefore the World's - finest directors.
Buy this film. On DVD if you can, or on VHS if you can't. You will not regret it.
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on 6 August 2007
If you hate this movie then you are obviously of the pixie caps and tights brigade who hate to see Shakespeare removed from the 'proper setting'. In my opinion there are very very few flaws in this movie. The pure and unrepentant villainy of McKellen's Richard is phenomenal, and who can forget the utter hilarity of the final scene. All I'll say is: "I'm sittin on top, top of the world..."

Buy this movie, watch this movie, show it too your friends. Believe me I have...
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HALL OF FAMEon 5 July 2005
Ian McKellan played Richard III on the stage in London, then touring the world, under Richard Eyre's direction and the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain's auspices. Like many great productions of Richard III in the past, there was an anticlimactic sense about things when the lengthy run ended - McKellan compares his production (justifiably) to those of Henry Irving and David Garrick, but longs for the lasting legacy of Laurence Olivier, who translated his successful stage production into a lasting cinematic production. Richard Eyre issued the challenge to McKellan to produce a screenplay, which he did, in collaboration with Richard Loncraine. Loncraine then produced the film, again starring Ian McKellan as Richard III, updated into a National-Socialist timeframe.
It is true that Shakespeare is the 'author' of Richard III - of course, much of Shakespeare's authoring involved heavy borrowing, redaction and crafting. This is not to take anything away from Shakespeare's achievement, but rather to prove the adage 'good writers borrow from others; great writers steal from them outright'. However, every production of a Shakespeare play requires modification of some sort; bringing Shakespeare productions to the screen (indeed, bringing any stage-play to the screen) requires a recrafting to suit the medium. McKellan and Loncraine rearranged and edited expertly the play to suit a film.
Richard III has been an enigmatic and controversial character - Shakespeare's play is probably more in keeping with Tudor propaganda against Richard III (from whom they took the throne) rather than actual history; Richard's malformed physical form and malicious character may be fictions, or at least great exaggerations, designed to serve the purpose of bolstering Tudor legitimacy. McKellan points out (a theory not unique to him, by any means) that the Tudors had as much to gain from the disappearance of the princes in the tower as Richard himself; had they survived and been recognised as heirs of the throne, Tudor legitimacy would have been much less credible.
McKellan's Richard has disability physically, but the real deformity is of the will and the spirit. The Prussian-inspired military garb of this production hints at but also hides his physical disability for the most part. There is no real hump, stammer or limp that many portrayals of Richard might have.
McKellan describes the decision to update the tale of Richard III into more modern times as one to provide clarity of narrative. Indeed, for this production, Richard is seen as a storm-trooper similar to the militant cadres of Germany in the 1930; his grasp for power is very similar in tone to the rise to dictatorship of any number of fascist leaders, but the Nuremberg-Rally character of Richard's accession leaves little doubt as to the parallel. On stage and screen, in a drama such as these, people need to be readily identified in their roles; Elizabethan dress (or earlier dress) is confusing to the modern eye, but the difference between costuming for military, aristocracy, etc. in the modern time is readily identifiable. The exact historical situation is not directly relevant - given that Richard III already takes liberties with the actual history of the time, why not take more in the name of accessibility to the audience?
Richard III had to be cut to make it on the screen, in order to be turned into a visual rather than auditory experience, given the sensibilities of modern cinema-goers. McKellan and Loncraine originally wanted to film around the Houses of Parliament, but for various political reasons that idea was quashed. They used the Parliament building in Budapest, modeled after the Westminster building, and did so to great effect.
McKellan certainly steals the show here, but there are worthwhile briefer performances by the late Nigel Hawthorne, Robert Downey Jr., John Wood, and Annette Bening. Maggie Smith, as the mother of Edward IV and Richard III, turns in a stunning performance as usual, nearly upstaging the other actors in every scene in which she appears.
The music is serviceable, useful as a backdrop but never really stands out. This is appropriate to Shakespeare, even up-dated, 'postmodern' Shakespeare, in which the play's the thing. The visuals help to pull the story along, but in true Shakepearean mode, the dialogue and acting are the driving forces here, and they succeed brilliantly.
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