The Scottish lord Macbeth, chooses evil as the way to fulfill his ambition for power. He commits regicide to become king and then furthers his moral descent with a reign of murderous terror... See full summary »
Henry Bolingbroke has now been crowned King of England, but faces a rebellion headed by the embittered Earl of Northumberland and his son (nicknamed 'Hotspur'). Henry's son Hal, the Prince ... See full summary »
Richard II is one of those plays that hangs almost wholly on the performance of the leading actor. While the action centers on the deposition of a king, the play is not so much a political drama as a psychological one. Shakespeare's interest, and therefore ours, is focused primarily on "unking'd Richard" rather than on his conflict with Henry Bolingbroke, the "silent king." Fortunately, the BBC version gives us a central performance that does the play justice: Derek Jacobi (one of my favorite actors anyway) does a turn here that's nothing short of splendid. Most of Richard's longer speeches have a nearly operatic quality to them, and Jacobi's reading does not disappoint. It's a great portrait of a petulant young king who gains -- if not true wisdom, then magnificent pathos.
The deposition scene alone is worth the price of admission. :-)
(I now apologize for the pretentious opening. I'm writing a thesis on Richard II at the moment -- indeed, I should be writing it *now* -- so I'm still in literary critic mode... ;-) )
Although Jacobi's bravura performance dominates the production, there are a few others that really stand out, chief among them Sir John Gielgud's amazing, intense John of Gaunt (whose last scene is just riveting -- his elegy for England gave me chills), Jon Finch's calculating Bolingbroke, and Charles Gray's York, who fortunately is not played as comic relief.
All this praise is not to say there's nothing about the production that doesn't work. For instance, the confusing and allegorical garden scene is rather unimpressive -- it's difficult and stylized anyway, and neither Janet Maw as the Queen nor Jonathan Adams as the head gardener really pulls it off. And the scene where York accuses his son Aumerle of treason while his wife pleads for pardon, rhyming all the while...well, it isn't one of Shakespeare's finest moments, but these actors, to their credit, went a ways toward making it watchable. And then there are the usual quibbles with the BBC production values -- the sets and such are not particularly impressive-looking; it's more like watching a stage production on film. But that doesn't matter if the performances are good -- and for the most part, these are first-rate.
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