Richard II is Shakespeare's first great tragedy, for here he realizes that character is destiny, and no English King was so brought to ruin because of his flawed character than the weak and stupid Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince and grandson of Edward III.
Jacobi's performance gets to the very root of Richard's personality: his arrogance, poor judgment, false bravado, impulsiveness - and in the end, his elegiac suffering as he collapses in tears, shorn of his crown and titles. "I cannot see," he wails when signing his abdication papers. "My eyes are too full of tears!" And was there ever a line in literature more heartbreaking than this: "I wasted time and now doth time waste me." A brilliant performance from start to gut-wrenching finish. Shakespeare has never been done better. The entire cast is marvelous.
I hear too many complaints that BBC productions have poorly designed sets and costumes. Puh-leeeze! Shakespeare is all about the WORDS. If you want impressive spectacle, go rent one of Cecil B. DeMille's adaptations of the Little Golden Book of Bible Stories. BBC gives us truly GREAT actors reciting Shakespeare, uncut, unedited, and unexpurgated.
Richard II was the first play in a cycle of eight plays that cover British history from 1377 to 1485 and chronicles the rise and fall of the high-hearted, ill-starred Plantagenets. Richard II is followed by Henry IV, Parts I and II; Henry V; Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III; and concluding the cycle, Richard III. This was part of a project by BBC to televise ALL of Shakespeare's plays for television. I don't know if they ever finished the series, but what they did complete was excellent, play after play.
If American PBS stations really want to raise money for their support, stop with the stupid pledge drives and auctions! Get all these great performances on VHS and DVD and sell them to a public ravenously hungry for good and intelligent entertainment.
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