Last week, I went to see The Globe’s production of Richard III, directed by Tim Carroll and starring the inimitable Mark Rylance. As is typical of a Globe production, the play was staged as it would have been done in Elizabethan times, from the all-male casting to the physical construction of the costumes (that is to say, no zippers allowed). It was performed in front of a replica of an Elizabethan library screen, with audience on-stage, to replicate the thrust staging of the Globe in London.
I had mixed feelings going in. I’m not a huge Rylance fan, mostly because I find him a little hammy, and Richard III is a play that lends itself to over-elaborate theatricality. Moreover, I had heard horror stories from fellow academics who had left the show at intermission. Rylance’s Richard was unlike anything I had seen before, and I’m still undecided whether that is a good or a bad thing.
Rylance’s Richard was a weak Richard. This Gloucester was defined by his deformity, which encompassed the typical limp and withered arm, but also impacted his speech. Rylance engaged with the audience frequently, seeking their approval and complicity in his desires. However, his drive to please the audience had the effect of weakening Richard, rendering the desire for power evident, but undermining his potency. This is problematic, as it denies us the warrior Richard who was a major player in the Wars of the Roses, a decision amplified by the excision of Margaret. It also denies us the dangerous, charismatic Richard who succeeds because his audience onstage trusts him in spite of themselves. It made Anne’s decision to accept his hand inexplicable, an inconsistency further heightened by Johnny Flynn’s by-the-books Anne. With the exception of Roger Lloyd Pack’s magnetic Buckingham, the supporting characters were uninspiring and seemed there only to facilitate Richard’s move from scene to scene.
That’s not to say that the production failed. Playing Richard as impotent gave Buckingham great power, which he wielded. Buckingham was the orchestrator of Richard’s ascent to power, which made Richard’s rejection of Buckingham a powerful moment. It allowed Richard to be incensed by his circumstances and entrapped by his body, which was occasionally a powerful combination. While Rylance’s Richard was unattractive, he was compelling, and that, combined with an uninspiring secondary cast, made the death of Richard a real loss. (L. Geddes, October, 2013)
Richard III (1955)
dir. Laurence Olivier
If you had asked me four weeks ago who Richard III was, I would’ve probably given some snarky comment like “one of Jesus’ apostles”. But if you had asked me the same question three weeks from today, I would’ve said he was one of the most terrifying, magnificent men to sit on the royal throne of England. Or, at least, that’s what I got from Shakespeare’s historical play, The Tragedy of King Richard III.
But being the film fanatic that I am, I would have less difficulty watching the performance of this play through the lens of a camera, rather than watch it on stage. Now don’t bring out your torches and pitchforks just yet! This is only due to the very few opportunities I’ve taken to see any sort of play on stage. I promise to see this play and many others in their proper setting. As for now, let me just enjoy some form of these plays.
Anyways, I had the chance to get my hands on two adaptations of Shakespeare’s play: the famous Lawrence Olivier’s and Richard Loncraine’s film versions. To save you time, there’s no need to touch upon Loncraine’s adaptation, since Stefanie Colello was kind enough to already do so. The only thing to add upon her review is an emphasis on Ian McKellen’s performance as Richard III: when he talks directly upon the audience, there’s a level of sauciness that causes us to want more from him, to see him go as far as he can.
Olivier’s performance, on the other hand, veers more towards a Richard III who doesn’t wish to show off to us, so much as he simply wants to show off to everyone else in the play of what he’s capable of. We are only so fortunate to know firsthand what his plots are. The film removes many of the scenes from the original play, as well as completely stripping away Queen Maragaret and watering down the Duchess of York, simply to maintain a regular pace in the film, as well as to help the audience in understanding the film without requiring as much historical information that Shakespeare would’ve naturally assumed from them. This play is after all solely about Richard III and his greatness. Everyone else simply becomes a pawn in his excitingly twisted game.
The 1955 film is, of course, more true to the original play by sticking to the setting of Medieval England. The costume for Richard III is also reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth’s comment that he is a “bottleneck spider”, giving his shirt more “arms” for him to spin people into his torturous web. In the 1995 adaptation, McKellen’s Richard dons the military outfit of World War generals, eventually switching to his all-black attire reminiscent of Hitler’s officers in WWII.
The older Richard III’s relationship with the royal court is less deceiving in that they all know not to trust his words, for he’s just as trustworthy as Odysseus.
One thing that I loved most in contrasting the two Richard’s was the level of fear they caused on those around them. McKellen’s king was looked down upon by Queen Elizabeth and her cousins as a nuisance, initially. It was after Rivers was killed and that she realized her son was being brought by Richard and Buckingham that caused her to keep at a distance. But even when she goes to see her sons at the Tower, she scoffs at Brakenbury’s comment on Richard as the king, calling him still the “Lord’s Protector”. I feel that this is closest to Elizabeth’s reaction in the play.
In contrast, Olivier’s court knows full well the danger that comes with finding out Richard III is the last of the three brothers to live. One of my absolute favorite scenes in Olivier’s adaptation is when Richard III’s nephew says “you should bear me on your shoulder”, and Richard turns to the boy with complete hatred in his body. The intensity causes the boy to take a step back, causing the audience to step back as well. We know full well that absolutely nobody will get in Richard’s way to the throne. Nobody.
Personally, I found Olivier’s version to be most entertaining and seamless when it came down to feeling any sort of connection to any of the characters that wasn’t Richard III. However, the more recent film provides more action, of course, as the opening sequence shows the son of King Henry VI get shot through the forehead. To put it more simply, the modern version provided a series of short shocks, while the classic had increased the intensity of the horror throughout the entire play. Either way you choose, I think both films serve their purpose in making you fall in love with Richard III like I did. (J. Wesson, September 2013)
dir. Richard Loncrain
William Shakespeare’s play Richard III was made into a movie in 1995, directed by Richard Loncraine. This film uses modern clothing with an old fashioned style such as red lipstick, tight ball gowns, sun hats and tuxedos to dress the characters. Ian McKellen is the star of this film playing Richard who represents him well. He adopts Richards’s manipulative, charming, deceiving personality and shows great pride in his wrong doings. Ian MacKellen addresses the audience with power and dedication in this film when expressing his pride in deceiving those whom he wants to conquer. He does so with a twist that isn’t given in the play which leaves the audience with a comedic view of his actions. This makes Richard very likeable and allows us to yearn for his success despite his villain behavior.
The emotion of guilt is painted accurately in this film in those whom Richard mistreats. After killing Lady Anne’s husband and father-in-law, she gives into his request of love. This scene shows him professing his love as well as making her loved ones death a consequence for her beauty. When kneeling before her giving her the knife to take his life, she denies the opportunity to kill him. It clearly allows us to view her inability to do so which shows her accepting the responsibility of her first husband’s death as well as his love for her. Again guilt is shown dramatically when Richard tells King Edward about Clarence’s death, making him believe he is responsible for his murder. Edward shortly after dies while calling out his brother Clarence’s name in mourning. This film did a great job at capturing emotion, the appearance of the noble people and Richards’s deformities as well as the relationships between the characters. (S. Colello, September 2013)