Although it is the prelude to the great cycle of Shakespeare's English history plays, Richard II is much less often produced than Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III. In fact, unless you live in England or in a city where there's a theater devoted to Shakespeare or an annual Shakespeare festival, you may never have an opportunity to see this in a stage production.
Happily, the BBC produced the entire cycle of Shakespeare plays in the 1970's and this Richard II is among the best. It has Derek Jacobi as Richard, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt, his eldest uncle, Jon Finch as Bolingbroke, Gaunt's son, later Henry IV, Wendy Hiller as the Duchess of York and Charles Gray as the Duke of York.
Say what you will, no one does Shakespeare better than the British, and Jacobi, Gielgud and Hiller are among the best interpreters of the past century. I saw this play once years ago at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford in a production I thought slightly superior to this one -- but the acting was in no way better. Although I DO live in a city with a Shakespeare theater and attend it regularly, this is only the second production of Richard II that I have managed to see in the ensuing years.
Richard II has the added distinction of being one of the few Shakespeare plays that is entirely in verse. Why it is not more often played, I do not know. If you love Shakespeare, don't miss this DVD.
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