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Richard III (TV Movie 1983) Poster

(1983 TV Movie)

Trivia

This episode was filmed on the same set as the three Henry VI plays. However, designer Oliver Bayldon altered the set so it would appear to be a ruin, as England reached its lowest point of chaos. In the same vein, the costumes became more and more monotone as the four plays went on; The First Part of Henry the Sixth (1983) features brightly coloured costumes which clearly distinguish the various combatants from one another, but by this point, everyone fights in similarly coloured dark costumes, with little to differentiate one army from another.
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Because this version of Richard III functioned as the fourth part of a series, it meant that much of the text usually cut in standalone productions could remain. The most obvious beneficiary of this was the character of Margaret, whose role, if not removed completely, is usually severely truncated. Jane Howell' also saw the unedited nature of the tetralogy as important for Richard himself, arguing that without the three Henry VI plays "it is impossible to appreciate Richard except as some sort of diabolical megalomaniac," whereas in the full context of the tetralogy "you've seen why he is created, you know how such a man can be created: he was brought up in war, he saw and knew nothing else from his father but the struggle for the crown, and if you've been brought up to fight, if you've got a great deal of energy, and physical handicaps, what do you do? You take to intrigue and plotting."
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The production is unusual amongst filmed Richards insofar as no one is killed on camera except Richard himself. This was very much a conscious choice on the part of Jane Howell; "you see nobody killed; just people going away, being taken away - so much like today; they're just removed. There's a knock on the door and people are almost willing to go. There's no way out of it."
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At 239 minutes, this production was the longest episode in the entire BBC Shakespeare series, and when the series was released on DVD in 2005, it was the only adaptation split over two disks. Of the 3,887 lines comprising the First Folio text of the play, Howell cut only 72; roughly 1.8% of the total.
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Somewhat controversially, the episode ended with Margaret sitting atop a pyramid of corpses (played by all of the major actors who had appeared throughout the tetralogy) cradling Richard's dead body and laughing manically, an image Edward Burns refers to as "a blasphemous pietà." Jane Howell herself referred to it as a "reverse pietà," and defended it by arguing that the tetralogy is bigger than Richard III, so to end by simply showing Richard's death and Richmond's coronation is to diminish the roles that have gone before; the vast amount of death that has preceded the end of Richard III cannot be ignored.
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Part of the long running BBC Television Shakespeare project which ran between 1978 and 1985.
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