Who woulda thunk it? "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
could be said in a movie, and it not only works, it's dynamite! In a daringly
decadent adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy of the hunchback murderer,
King Richard III, Ian McKellan plays John Hurt playing Richard.
The strategy of the movie is to show us how Richard becomes king in the
way fascist thugs became dictators during the Thirties. The worlds they
lived in did little to discourage them and probably damned well deserved
them. The story entertains what could have happened in England, had a little
Mussolini lusted for the throne and Edward not abdicated over his passion
for an American divorcee. Here, Annette Bening plays the Queen and is quite
adequate as an American in England, but barely able to wrap her pretty lips
around Elizabethan dialogue.
To his credit, director Richard Loncraine has edited but not simplified
what Shakespeare wrote. It's shorter, which means we have to pay close
attention. But its difficulty is also its reward: this is the only Richard
other than Nixon to aspire to tyranny out of disgust for the rest of the
Maggie Smith does double-duty in reciting Shakespeare with great clarity
while boarding a helicopter to hightail it out of the line of fire of her
ghastly son. Jim Broadbent has the face of a good bureaucrat and plays
the befuddled Englishman so well, we know why the Empire will fall apart,
why the center will not hold.
Ian McKellan's talent as this endlessly fascinating, beastly character is
so well known to theatre-goers that they may not be surprised or suitably
impressed. But to anybody who has just seen "Othello," this movie
will renew your faith in Shakespeare. Nothing is better than the Bard well-done,
and nothing as tedious as bad Will.
Luciana Arrighi's sets are magnificent, and the spectacular battle are stunningly
photographed. The "fall" of Richard literally takes your breath
away and sends you out invigorated in the notion that evil will overextend
itself. (Is this true? Talk among yourselves, I'm feeling a little verklemmt.)
Richard Loncraine is a director who deserves to be known as inventive and
remorselessly funny. Back in 1983, he directed Michael Palin in a little
satire called "The Missionary," which has become a cult film,
which may have functioned as justification for dumping the idea of the good
Samaritan in the Eighties. It's moral is alive and well in his version
of Richard III: no good deed goes unpunished.