Richard III (1983 TV Movie)
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In a simple, but effective, set, with authentic costumes and asides taken directly to camera, this brings your closer to Shakespeare's work than much of the praised films and productions in the past.
If you found Olivier's version just too hammy to bear..... try this one.
This sees the end of the civil War of the Roses that plague England, and the rise and fall of the tyrannical Richard III (Ron Cook). It is one long watch but worth it.
Most of the actors who have appeared throughout the tetrology reappear here with the addition of Zoe Wanamaker as Lady Anne, and Annette Crosbie as the Duchess of Gloster.
Ron Cook, as the central character, keeps his performance controlled and understated, never feigning to theatrical style or pretension. Wanamaker and Crosbie are relative newcomers, but still excellent and all other actors acquit themselves well.
Richard's inevitable demise is a little too gory for my DVD's U certificate, but it is well played and fits his performance. Most of the supporting actors double in various roles but the story remains comprehensible throughout.
The concluding image, with Richard confined to hell in the arms of Lady Margaret, above all that have been slaughtered in England's bloody feud, is a fitting and enduring finale.
I agree withe the general view of other commentators that the excision of the British 'hammy' style does nothing but enhance the powerful sweep of this epic.
In the final play Ron Cook's deliberately paced and under-stated (by comparison with, say, Olivier) performance renders a powerful image of the 'toad'.
I was especially struck by the scene with the 3 women characters where they debate the evils wrought by their various male relatives on them and their offspring.
The last few scenes covering the night before the battle of Bosworth where the stream of ghosts taunting Richard then support Richmond, highlights what a great piece of pro-Tudor propaganda this play is.
I know that my comments are really about the original Shakespeare play but this production made it live for me.
The final scene with Margaret cackling on top of the heap of dead is a masterstroke!
I was familiar with the play from reading it but the only previous productions I've seen were the Olivier and McKellen films, which I HATE, and Pacino's Looking For Richard, which made no impression on me other than I remember loathing its "cool" tricky editing. I thought the Olivier was too high camp and the McKellen terminally concept-ridden. It's possible that younger viewers might be alienated by the fact that this Richard makes no attempts to disguise the fact that it was shot on an inexpensive set in a small studio on videotape using the old three-camera technique. If you demand cutting edge 21st century production values, you'll be better off waiting for Benedict in Hollow Crown II. If you try this one, it'll go down much better if you're willing to enter the spirit of make-believe and pretend you're back in 1983 watching it on a Trinitron.
I liked everything about this production but little Ron won my heart. The fact that he is a petite actor does help, as according to the analysis of his rediscovered remains the historical Richard was a slight man who stood well below average height because of his severe scoliosis. Ron handles the physical aspects of Richard superbly, emphasizing the nimbleness and strength the young man has developed to compensate for his disabilities in order to become a formidable warrior. I actually dated a man who, like Shakespeare's Richard, had one leg a few inches shorter than the other, and Ron's rolling gait is uncannily like his--I have to believe Ron did some serious life studies when planning his Richard.
Can I also mention without sounding sexist that unlike the usual Richard Ron is young and cute? With his hair grown out to shaggy shoulder length with rough half-bangs, he kept reminding me of pop music icons of my girlhood--one minute Keith Moon, the next Alice Cooper, another time a seriously decadent David Cassidy. Unlike Olivier and McKellen, who seem to have deliberately made their Richards unsexy, Ron is genuinely persuasive in the famous Lady Anne seduction scene and is well-matched in Zoe Wanamaker--an Anne who for once is a woman rather than a cream puff. This may be an artefact of the production having a woman director. Another may be that this and its matching Henry plays feature some unusually non-lame fight scenes. I loved how Richard's final comeuppance is staged as a boar hunt. I recently snagged this and the Henry plays on DVD via ebay and intend to spend many happy hours rewatching them in preparation for the big Cumbervent next year.
If you can get over the fact that Ron Cook who plays Richard III bears an uncanny resemblance to Dudley Moore, you will enjoy this BBC production of The Tragedy Of Richard III. Richard III in his time was called 'Crookback' because he was supposedly a hunchback though it never affected him on the battlefield, even his enemies conceded he was quite the man at arms. That was a bit of Tudor propaganda as spun by the court favorite William Shakespeare.
The two roles that really make this production are that of Rowena Cooper as Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner who married Edward IV and bore him the two sons who were killed in the Tower in 1483. She spent a lot of time making sure her generous and indulgent husband took care of his many in-laws. She transforms remarkably as the Queen enjoying privileges to the distraught mother whose sons were taken and murdered, probably on Richard's wishes if not unwritten orders.
One thing that should be clear. This incident with the murder of the child king Edward V and his brother Richard plays more shocking for today's audience than back at the Globe Theater in Shakespeare's day. People had an abundance of kids because the majority of them died before reaching their majority. And child monarchs mean regencies and regencies always mean court politics on steroids and dynastic challenges. People in those time need only look in Scotland to the north which had a series of child monarchs which weakened the realm so totally that it's only remedy was union with England which happened not long after people saw the first production of this play. And the three parts of Henry VI that led up to the events here began with an infant king and the struggles for power which turned into the War Of The Roses.
The other female role that stands out is Margaret Of Anjou, late the Queen consort of Henry VI who singlehandedly for her husband and son kept the Lancastrian claims going. She was and is a controversial figure in English history still. Julia Foster played her in all the stages of her life in the three parts of Henry VI and in Richard III. Ironically enough this role was eliminated in Laurence Olivier's acclaimed big screen film of this play. But seeing it now that kind of diminishes Olivier's work somewhat. Foster is a bitter figure of passion, grief, and revenge in equal parts as she curses all the new Yorkist royalty and nobility and most especially Richard of Gloucester.
For Richard it was a case of what went around really did come around for him.
This teleplay is among the best British TV dramas ever produced. Won't someone please get great British TV dramas like this released on DVD???
We have to clear the plate of a question that is today no longer debated. Shakespeare proposes here the vision of Richard III promoted by the Tudors, that is to say those who vanquished and destroyed him, in order to stabilize and justify their taking over te throne of England. Richard III was not the physical monster they described.
This being said this play is a real thriller. Richard has to eliminate everyone on his path to climb (really climb) to the throne. I would say that sounds plain normal but he declares himself to be evil and to enjoy killing, particularly innocent people. And when he has finally finished the elimination of those who have a blood claim to the throne, except Richmond who has fled to Brittany, he starts killing those who have helped him in his ascent, which is politically absurd and plain suicidal. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, comes back with an army and defeats Richard III at Bosworth in 1485 and thus becomes Henry VII known as the first Tudor king, though he is a Lancaster, which means the House of Lancaster in the end wins but they change the dynastic reference, probably to ensure the past be the past, which might explain why Richard III after proper examination was buried in a small church with no indication on his grave, which explains why in modern times when the church was pull down to open some space for a parking lot no archaeological search was started and Richard III remained under the parking lot for a long time before new excavations to build some new structure finally discovered him, or at least his remains.
The victor is always right and history hates the past and disguises it to the colors of the present, which means the color of the past changes from one present to the next [...]
This production is superb in many ways, once again by the physical acting of pain, sorrow and death, particularly with body language, facial language and tonal language. A triplet of queens is essential: Margaret the old widow of Henry the Sixth; Lady Anne, widow to Edward Prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth, later married to the Duke of Gloster who later became Richard the Third; and Elizabeth, queen to Edward the Fourth and then his widow. Of these three queens Lady Anne is the most discreet though fundamental because of her marrying Gloster, the future Richard the Third and the killer of both her husband and her father in law, but another triplet is composed with the Duchess of York, mother to King Edward the Fourth, Clarence and Gloster, the latter to become Richard the Third. The oldest of them, Margaret is a real warmonger against Richard the Third and this production makes her triumphant at the very end, after the concluding words from Henry the Seventh, sitting, laughing hysterically, at the top of a pile of half denuded dead bodies, and holding the corpse of Richard the Third. The full and final step of this purification cycle typical of Shakespeare: she takes, or rather is granted, the victory she is provided with by history or fate [...]
But to show how strong Shakespeare's music can be, I will make a final remark on the famous ghost scene. In his last night living on earth before the battle of Bosworth he has a dream that brings up EIGHT apparitions of ghosts, eleven ghosts all together [...]
EIGHT is the symbol of the Second Coming, and here we have eleven second comings. The Second Coming is the triggering event of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation.
ELEVEN is the number of apostles after the elimination of Judas, the eleven apostles who retire away from the Crucifixion (except John) and who deny Jesus, like Peter, and who hide away from the crucifixion and post crucifixion scene out of fear. These eleven apostles announce the resurrection too, even if in a negative way, the way they announce the end of Richard III but they also appear to Richmond and they announce the resurrection of the English monarchy with Henry the Seventh, known as Richmond in this play.
Finally NINE is necessary to complete the prophecy, the prediction, by identifying the beast, in this case Richard the Third. And sure enough the ghosts are going to curse Richard III with a simple formula: "despair and die." And in that ghost scene this mantra is repeated NINE times.
We must understand that in Elizabethan times, after the Reformation and in the ascending phase of chapels and Puritanism, such biblical references (in this case the Passion of Jesus and the Book of Revelation) were unavoidable elements that everyone understood and appreciated. What's more it is very effective in the "propaganda" (rather self-justification) of the Tudors: the killing of the crucifixion is prophesied, the Second Coming is announced and the Beast is identified. We are in the midst of medieval numerical symbolism. This makes me say NINE is the numerical symbol of this king, and as I have already said in my review of Henry the Sixth, Part Three: 1 + 8 = 9; 4 + 5 = 9; 1 + 4 + 8 + 5 = 18 = 9 x 2. The beast is killed on the diabolical date that is also the resurrection date of Bosworth, the final battle. After this last battle the prophecy of the New Messianic Jerusalem becomes possible [...]
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU