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 »
Macbeth is a daring member of the Scottish military who receives a revelation from three menacing sorceresses that he will someday become the King of Scotland. This information gives him a ... 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 »
When Sir John Falstaff decides that he wants to have a little fun he writes two letters to a pair of Window wives: Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. When they put their heads together and ... See full summary »
David Hugh Jones
Richard II is the setup for the cycle of history plays, and as such devotes much time to explication. So it can be a little dry compared with some other Shakespeare, and so it is here.
The cast is almost uniformly excellent. Jon Finch is a sturdy Bolingbroke, and Sir John Gielgud is memorable, speaking John of Gaunt's "This England" speech as if no one had ever spoken it before.
Charles Gray, usually a "damn-the-torpedos" scene stealer, here defers magnificently to Dame Wendy Hiller. When the two plead on their knees simultaneously for and against a royal pardon of their son, they teeter sublimely on the razor's edge of urgent melodrama and marital farce - an exquisite and very difficult moment.
The problem for me is a very intelligent, much praised performer who fails in the title role. Derek Jacobi often makes wise choices as he prepares and analyzes the text. Then he commits the actor's unpardonable sin of monitoring his own performance while delivering it. He winds up admiring his own work while doing it, which in serious drama is disgusting.
It is also a truism among actors that either the actor cries or the audience cries, but never both. Unfortunately Mr. Jacobi cries so much there's no reason for us to join in; he sheds enough tears for all of us, and we just sit and stare.
The other odd thing about Mr. Jacobi's delivery is his total lack of velocity. It doesn't matter whether he speaks quickly or slowly, loudly or softly, there's no movement, no snap, no impetus, no forward motion. Everything emerges from a thick, suet-y, pudding-like stillness, and he never actually manages to get from point A to point B - compare with Gielgud's performance in the same play, where the older man has lost his long breath, but manages to gallop nonetheless.
The BBC videos of Shakespeare's comedies and romances have much more engaging production design than the histories, but what we see here is perfectly adequate, if not arresting.
The all-important pacing is uneven, except for the scene of the handing over of the crown, which grinds to a dead halt. This last should have been tightened in the editing. Overall, tedium is not avoided, it's embraced.
So if you really think that Derek Jacobi is a great Shakespearian actor, don't mind me, just plunge right in without hesitation.
I personally would rather get my hands on a copy of the Shakespeare Recording Society version from the 1960's, starring Sir John Gielgud as Richard II with Michael Hordern, Leo McKern and Keith Michell; this is available on audio cassette in the UK and on CD nowhere, and that's a scandal HarperCollins should address.
6 of 14 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?