Sunday, 22 May 2016

BBC's Hollow Crown; Wars of the Roses; Richard III

Just watched BBC's Richard III with Benedict Cumberbatch. Not impressed with the overall production, it lacked any subtlety. I know it's not Old Will's most subtle play, but the character of Richard is capable of huge interpretation which Cumberbatch didn't bother with. He played the character as just a crazed grotesque. I've seen several far better portrayals on stage, including by Anton Lesser and Robert Lindsay in 1998; also Ian McKellan's film of Richard III set as if in World War One. I don't include Laurence Olivier's 1955 film which I also dislike. 

The play was part of the 'Wars of the Roses,' the culmination of 'The Hollow Crown' series with 4 plays, effectively crammed into 3 so something was bound to be lost in transition. I saw the first and last, it began with Richard II, one of Shakespeare's least known plays so that was interesting, even if I got a bit lost in the convolutions and samey characters - the latter problem is one which the later Richard III play also suffers from. 

At least with this latest BBC production the importance of three of the four women's roles in the play were spectacularly upheld with powerful performances from Sophie Okonedo as the long-lived and much wronged Queen Margaret and dignified fury from Judi Dench as the Duchess of York and Richard's despairing mother. Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (the mother of the little princes in the tower) held the threads of the plot together. Phoebe Fox played Anne, Richard's traumatised wife and wasn't really given enough to do, but then Shakespeare often failed to give his female characters much to work with. 

Of course the plays have little to do with the real events and characters in history, which is always written by the victors. Richard III, with only a 3 year reign, was less successful a monarch than his predecessor Richard II who was monarch for 33 years, and both were destroyed by their enemies. There has been no King Richard in Britain since. Shame, Richard is a better name than many. King Benedict? Probably not!

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