Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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"To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain."

I took a lot of theater classes while in college and one of the most interesting was a performance class I took with waystone in which we analyzed how drama performance changed over the history of the craft. In this class, the professor showed a video of Ian McKellen addressing an audience and discussing his Richard of Gloucester; in response to a question from one of the students, he delivered the "winter of our discontent" soliloquoy, and his transformation was breathtaking. I thus was quite eager to see his and Richard Loncraine's adaptation of Richard III when it came out, but for one reason or another, it eluded me until now.

The film is dazzling. The opening sequence clearly establishes that this is a film, not a play, and so unlike, say, Branagh's Henry V, which is an abridgement of its source play, Richard III is more of an adaptation than a straight performance. This works to the film's advantage, allowing the more Brechtian elements (such as Richard directly addressing the camera) to connect better with the narrative. The film places the narrative in a late 30s England (a similar but more postmodern technique would be used in Julie Taymor's adaptation of Titus, which features a complete hodgepodge of period references), which gives the events of the play an interesting spin. It certainly puts a more sinister cast on that country's flirtation with that political party during the era.

McKellen's natural flamboyance meshes perfectly with Gloucester's malevolence, thus giving us a colorful, twisted figure that gleefully bounces around, doing all of these horrible things to everybody around him. The verisimilitude in his delivery makes the Elizabethan blank verse sound fresh and natural. The rest of the cast is also very good. Jim Broadbent plays Buckingham as a sprightly two-faced being, completely above everybody's suspicion until the shit hits the fan. In many ways, his character is even more disturbing than McKellen's; while Gloucester is warped and unbalanced (and in no small way in recompense for the indifference shown him by the court), the amiable Buckingham's treachery is motivated entirely by a lust for power.

Nigel Hawthorne plays Clarence; at the beginning of the film he is seen to be a photographer, thus placing his inability to see Gloucester for what he is in an ironic light. Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. come across strangely in this film because of their American accents. The idea that they are outsiders coming into the family is important to illustrate, but surrounded by such stalwart British thespians as Edward Hardwicke (a loyal Lord Stanley), Kristin Scott Thomas (a flighty Lady Anne; in an interesting and worthwhile choice revealed to be a heroin addict), Adrian Dunbar (the ruthless Tyrell) and many others, not least of which is the great Dame Maggie Smith herself (playing the Duchess of York, demonstrating once again that star power is more important than screen time), they do come across as being somewhat out of place.

The film was shot in brightly-colored but moody widescreen by Peter Biziou, which beautifully captures the ornate Oscar-nominated production and costume design by Tony Burroughs and Shuna Harwood, respectively. Given how important the film's setting is to its effect, it is nevertheless heartening to see how it is only used as an environment for the characters.

The movie was scored by Trevor Jones with a conflation of traditional and jazz idioms, featuring sax solos by Phil Todd not too dissimilar from his approach on Angel Heart (which was a collaboration with saxophonist Courtney Pine). Jones also wrote a song with lyrics from a pastorale poem by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe. There is also a very entertaining selection of period music, culminating with the Al Jolson song "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" in of the most apropos yet strange uses of a previously existing song since Gene Kelly's rendition of "Singing in the Rain" closed out A Clockwork Orange. While the score is very effective in the film, the soundtrack album contains quite a lot of dialogue over the score selections, which makes it very difficult to gadge how it works as music, although many of the slinkier motives to appear from time to time without the speech. This type of album is rather anachronistic these days since the advent of home video, although I must admit that it is entertaining.

The film only runs 104 minutes, which, while a demonstration of how much adaptation has been done to the play, also shows its fleet pace. Loncraine manages to squeeze most of the essentials of the play into the film while at the same time keeping the approach cinematic. An example of this is the ostensibly mute princess Elizabeth (Kate Steavenson-Payne), who is omnipresent in the film, thus allowing her role in the story to be often demonstrated rather than explained.
Madam, my mother, I do cry you mercy;
I did not see your grace:—humbly on my knee
I crave your blessing.
God bless thee; and put meekness in thy breast,
Love, charity, obedience, and true duty!
Amen! [Aside]
And make me die a good old man! —
That is the butt end of a mother's blessing;
I marvel that her grace did leave it out.
Anyway... I liked it.
Tags: cinema, movie moments, reviews
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