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Natasha Gregson Wagner
William Shakespeare's classic play is brought into the present with the setting as Great Britian in the 1930s. Civil war has erupted with the House of Lancaster on one side, claiming the right to the British throne and hoping to bring freedom to the country. Opposing is the House of York, commanded by the infamous Richard who rules over a fascist government and hopes to install himself as a dictator monarch. Written by
Anthony Hughes <email@example.com>
Brilliantly thought out, superbly played and totally gripping
I'm not always comfortable with Shakespeare in modern dress, nor with Ian McKellen's apparent assumption of the mantle of Olivier and Gielgud. Neither did I think that anything could top the experience of seeing Antony Sher play the role on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth.
So after all the unfavourable comment, I was shocked to find this version comprehensively squashing all such reservations. It's brilliantly thought out, superbly played and totally gripping from start to finish.
The updating to a non-specific inter war period is not just apposite but genuinely illuminating. The games McKellen plays with the changing techniques of warfare in the period, the rise of fascism, realpolitik and the undermining of royalty by the Wallis Simpson affair, push back the boundaries of Shakespeare on film in all directions.
For example, at the very moment you're thinking that all this mayhem is a bit much in English period costume, the helmets change, then the uniforms get darker, the red flags appear and Richard's acceptance speech turns into an underground Nuremburg Rally - a stark reminder of just how deeply the country flirted with fascism in the 30s and just how short and steep the descent can be. Stanley's troops, crucially uncommitted, stood off overlooking the real Battle of Bosworth. McKellen's Richard has control of the railway network here, but Wing Commander Stanley denies him the all-important air support in a superb piece of updated analogy. Throughout, modernity is so carefully and relevantly overlaid on the plot structure that it becomes one of the great pleasures and achievements of the piece.
Lots of surprises, not the least of which comes as the play's most famous line is perfectly re-engineered and delivered and lots of great players at the top of their form.
McKellen, Scott Thomas, Broadbent, Downey Jnr and Annette Bening are all worth the price of admission individually, but there's hardly a flaw in any of the performances.
I simply can't see what the detractors are on about at all. Really. An epic piece of work. Easily the best version on film. Easily the most thought provoking Shakespeare on film.
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