Richard III (1995) Poster

(1995)

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Brilliantly thought out, superbly played and totally gripping
alfa-165 June 2000
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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An unfairly maligned interpretation
JMartin-28 April 2000
From the very first Shakespeare film (a silent version of "King John," of all things), filmmakers have sought to impose their own unique visions on Shakespeare; in the case of "King John," it was fairly simple (a scene of John signing the Magna Carta, which isn't in Shakespeare's play). Ever since, Shakespeare adaptations have faced the difficulty of remaining true to the greatest writer in the history of the English language while bringing something new to the table; filmed plays, after all, belong on PBS, not in the cinema.

Luckily, the minds behind this adaptation of "Richard III" is more than up to the challenge. To be fair, putting the movie in an alternate 1930's Fascist England doesn't serve the sort of lofty purpose that, say, Orson Welles' 1930s updating of "Julius Caesar" (intended to condemn the Fascist governments in Europe at that time) did. What it does do is allow the filmmakers to have a lot of fun. It's not necessarily more accessible -- the Byzantine intrigues and occasionally confusing plot can't be tempered by simply moving the setting ahead 500 years -- but it's definitely more entertaining. There's just something inherently amusing about Richard sneaking off for a pee after the "winter of our discontent" speech (still rambling on as he, ahem, drains the main), or giving the "my kingdom for a horse!" bit while trying to get his Jeep out of the mud.

To be sure, the Fascist England shown in the film isn't very convicing -- from OUR historical hindsight -- but this isn't our world, this is a world fashioned from the imagination that just happens to look like our own, just as Shakespeare's were. You can't criticize "King Lear" for its faux-historical setting any more than you can criticize this film for the same reason.

The complaint registered by a previous commentator -- more or less, "if you're going to move Shakespeare to a new period, you need to be true to that period" -- is utter bollocks, really. After all, it is inherently "untrue" to have people running around speaking Elizabethan dialogue in the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, etc., so if you try to remain "true," you end up stripping away the dialogue -- the very essence of Shakespeare. I agree with the even more controversial Shakesperean theatre director Peter Sellars in that words are not what makes Shakespeare great, but rather his characters and ideas. But Shakespeare communicated those through his words, and if you change them, it's not Shakespeare anymore. The same commentator pointed to Branagh's more faithful interpretations as a counterweight to this film, yet Branagh's "Hamlet" is not only set in the 18th century but in a country that looks nothing like 1700s Denmark, even though the characters refer to it as such.

The complaints about McKellen's "hamminess" are equally unfounded. What are they using as their basis of comparision? Olivier? Olivier's Richard makes McKellen's look positively restrained by comparision. Richard is egotistical, bombastic, and prone to spouting lines like "thine eyes, sweet lady, have infected mine." I have little doubt in my mind that Skakespeare did not intend Richard to be played "straight" -- indeed, if Shakespeare had any concept of what we call "camp," he was probably thinking of it when he wrote the play. From this point of view, the "silly" little touches like the Al Jolson song at the end and even the newsreel of Richard's coronation fit in perfectly.

As with most Shakespeare films, the plot has been streamlined -- nearly all of the characters are here, but scenes and speeches have been truncated and removed, but despite what some have said, these aren't fatal to the plot or the characters. Richard's seduction of Anne does seem to occur to quickly, but it's not a completely successful one, seeing how she lapses into drug addiction later in the film. Besides, Richard's evil has nothing to do with the fact that his "inability to experience romantic love." Richard isn't a psychological portrait like Hamlet, he's a ruthless bastard, a piece of Tudor propaganda. When people praise "Richard III" (the play), it's not for its character depth.

I notice I've focused more on answering the film's detractors instead of dilineating its merits; in a way, I guess this expresses how much I like it. The cinematography, direction, and acting are all top-notch. The sets are perfect, once you realize that this is NOT historical England -- the power plant subbing for the Tower is more imposing than the real thing could ever be, and the factory ruins that serve as Bosworth Field are certainly more interested than a bunch of tanks and Jeeps roaming around the open countryside. Shakespeare purists will, of course, hate it, but then they hate anyone who dares to put anything more than a cosmetic spin on the Bard, be it Welles' "Voodoo 'Macbeth'" or Brook's stage production of "Titus Andronicus." For everyone else, read the play, then see the movie -- it'll help increase your appreciation of both.
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10/10
Justice made to Richard III
OttoVonB1 February 2006
"Richard III" may not have the all-encompassing understanding of uman nature seen in "Hamlet" or the grace and mastery of "The Tempest", but for my money is one of the greatest plays ever written and certainly Shakespeare's most entertaining.

It may be lacking in character development and psychology, but it more than makes up for that with a brilliant concept: have the villain as main character and make the audience his playful confident. The concept is aided further by eminently quotable lines and one great scene after the other of scheming, fiendishness and confrontations. One of the few pieces of criticism you can successfully throw at Shakespeare is that his central characters are often meek or feeble. Not so here! Tudor propaganda this might have been (it quite grotesquely disregards historical fact in a few places), this is storytelling at its finest.

Richard Loncraine's 1995 film places the story in a fictitious 30s England reminiscent of early Nazi Germany. The device serves to make the proceedings more accessible (if only marginally since the original language has thankfully been preserved). It also makes for amusing situations (Richard of York telling his monologue while taking a leak in a public restroom - "my Kingdom for a Horse!" bellowed from a paralyzed jeep) and serves as further proof of the Bard's timelessness.

Beyond the structural and technical feats - and they are quite excellent without exception, including Trevor Jones underrated dark jazzy score - lies what should be our main concern: the cast. Sir Ian McKellen as Richard is a Machiavellian wonder, blowing both Lawrence Olivier's rendition and McKellen's earlier work away. His fiendish creation is a joy to watch and root for, despite the increasing gruesomeness of his crimes. The byzantine plot demands that recognizable faces be cast in supporting roles and the characters are magnificently portrayed by eminent actors giving it their best and succeeding admirably. Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Kristin Scott-Thomas are expectedly great, but the truly outstanding supporting performances come as surprises: Annette Benning is all grief and fury, Adrian Dunbar is eerie yet very human as Richard's pet killer Tyrell and Nigel Hawthorne is incredibly moving as the meek Clarence. Even Robert Downey Jr. manages to hold his own against this impressive array of actors.

All in all if you can appreciate the language (that only gets better with repeated readings/viewings) and have a thirst for fine acting, it would be criminal to ignore this masterpiece.
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7/10
Shakespearean tragedy in 1940s Europe
mstomaso13 March 2006
This film sets Shakespeare's Richard III in an alternative to WWII era England, where fascists and royalists maintain their own militias and play power games with kings and thrones. The first scene sets the tone for the entire film. A young officer is settling down to dinner with his dog chewing on a bone nearby. The building begins to shake and a low rumbling is heard. Soon enough, a tank erupts through the fireplace and stormtroopers charge in automatic rifles ablaze. Ian McKellan removes his gas mask and spouts a few lines of Shakespearean dialog.

The action and the intrigue never really let up, as the film follows Richard's (McKellan) rise to infamy and power. Neither does the Shakespearean dialog. Somehow the cast manages to make the dialog fit the action and setting effortlessly.

Richard III is jarringly strange - perhaps the most innovative of the recent Shakespeare updates - very well acted and directed. Although I recommend the film, I have to warn you - it's not for everyone.
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Starring Richard III as A.Hitler, and A.Hitler as W.Churchill
Shakespeare's tragedy set in 1940s war-torn England.

As someone who loves Shakespeare, I grant a lot of latitude and respect to any person who can get these modern versions produced. The vogue now is to alter the time period, while still holding, generally speaking, to the original plot and language. As usual with the movies, its now done so often that traditional Shakespeare has become a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance. (forgive me!) This is ok, it takes the evil Richard III and plops him into the role of fascist usurper and dictator, during the notorious fascist period of England's history. I know, try and not overthink it. The acting and collection of performers are both first rate, and the film offers interesting moments for both the novice and expert Shakespearean student. There is one thing and it is what prompted me to even write this. If you notice during Richard's ascendance, a formal ball is thrown and a Vera Lynn type woman is shown singing a Glenn Miller type tune. You know you have never heard it, but yet is eerily memorable. I find out years later (today in fact) it is a Christopher Marlowe poem, clevely fitted to a WW2 sounding musical number. Somehow, its just real creepy and its in keeping with the mood of the entire movie. Upsetting and unnerving, with the evil spread just a little too generously over the characters. If you have a big blender, and throw in a copy of 1984, Richard III, and Godfather III, this is what you would end up with.
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9/10
See Olivier's "Richard III," then this one
vfrickey20 June 2005
There are two definitive film productions of Richard III: - Sir Laurence Olivier's 1955 film version, which he directed and in which he plays the title role, supported by Sir Cedric Hardwicke as King Edward, Sir John Gielgud as Clarence, the delectable Claire Bloom as the Lady Anne and a host of other brilliant performers - and Ian McKellen's 1995 version, screenwritten by McKellen and director Richard Loncraine, in which McKellen also plays the title role.

While the Olivier version is the definitive classic presentation of the play on film and should serve anyone who wants to see the play as it was intended to be seen (albeit the Colley Cibber adaptation), McKellen's adaptation captures the spirit of the play in modern context.

The movie opens with the Lancastrians in their war room receiving word of Richard, Earl of Gloucester's holding Tewksbury by teletype, then soon their war room is breached by a tank, behind which swarm raiders in gas masks, one of whom slays the Prince of Wales and then the King himself, before removing his gas mask (one of the old goggle-eyed full-face models the Russians still use) to reveal himself Richard, duke of Gloucester.

The scene shifts rapidly to a typical 1930s rich people's fete, complete with mellow-voiced torch singer and live orchestra, at which Richard III delivers the "sun of York" soliloquy as a toast to his father Edward and the assembled party - and then the scene shifts again to Richard completing the soliloquy to the camera, as he does throughout the film. The address to the camera is a little jarring - McKellen's smiling, evilly smirking delivery is a little over the top, what you'd imagine the Blackadder films would have been if they hadn't gone for laughs.

But Ian McKellen carries the role off very well... his not-quite-sane, quite unbalanced and power-mad schemer Richard III is entirely plausible as a 1930s dictator-king in the central European mold. The uniforms shift from the standard British armed forces' khakis to the blacks and greys of Hitler and Mussolini as Britain slides into fascism under her scheming "Lord Protector."

The screen action is taut, visually compelling - even when McKellen bellows "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" from a World War II Dodge weapons carrier/"command car," the scene doesn't degenerate into incongruous, unintentional comedy, because by then the viewer is caught up in the tale of this wild-eyed sociopath who has just about run out of rope - and since the truck is axle-deep in sand, stuck, a horse is just what Richard could have used around then.

There's just enough realism in the 1930's props to help with willing suspension of disbelief - no more. Military history buffs will not be happy. No matter. What is communicated very well is the senseless welter of fully-joined battle, fiery slaughter and Richard III's lashing out in senseless rage, eventually as much against his own men as the enemy.

The Duke of Stanley's last-minute defection against Richard's forces in the final battle is all the sharper for Stanley being the commander of the air force (his loyalty to Richard III in the coming battle with Henry, Earl of Richmond seemingly assured by his young son's being held hostage in Richard III's war train) - so that the viewer no sooner hears the news of the defection in the play's dialogue than Richard's forces are strafed and bombed by Stanley's war planes as Richmond's forces swarm into Richard's assembly area, cutting the Ricardian army to pieces.

Lots of interesting touches in the screenplay, such as Queen Elizabeth and her brother Earl Rivers (played ably by Annette Bening and rather indifferently by Robert Downey, Jr - who only manages to convince in the scene when he is assassinated in bed while submitting to the erotic ministrations of a Pan Am stewardess) playing their roles as Americans - using the homage to Wallis Simpson and her husband the Duke of Windsor (who abdicated his kingdom to marry Simpson because she wasn't only a commoner but a divorced American) to bring needed tension among the royals to the play.

In case the viewer's a little too thick to realize that Downey's character is an American, not only does he lay the flat, nasal accent on thicker than Hell, but on landing in England, he steps out of an airliner painted in bright Pan-American Airlines livery, where he is met by his royal sister Elizabeth and her children.

Bening's performance is more nuanced and sympathetic than Downey's - the conundrum of Elizabeth's brother being a Peer and obviously an American at the same time is just left out there. But before long, we're McKellen's willing co-conspirators and agree to forget this lapse.

Maggie Smith as Richard's mother Queen Margaret is stellar in her portrayal of a mother torn between the remnants of love for her twisted, lethal offspring and mourning the rest of her family dead because they stood in Richard's way to the throne. Her delivery of Margaret's of the advice Elizabeth asks for on how to curse Richard (Act 4, Scene 4):

"QUEEN ELIZABETH

O thou well skill'd in curses, stay awhile, And teach me how to curse mine enemies!

QUEEN MARGARET

Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days; Compare dead happiness with living woe; Think that thy babes were fairer than they were, And he that slew them fouler than he is!"

is one of the best-delivered lines in Shakespeare on film I have seen.

In closing one compares McKellen's Richard III to Anthony Hopkins' Hitler in "The Bunker" - an eerie channeling of one of history's foulest personalities, so that one feels one's self in his foul presence watching the show.

Masterful work.
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9/10
Original, Brilliant Richard
dromasca8 December 2002
This is one of the movies you remember for a long time - and for all the good reasons. Transplanting Shakespeare in a different time and giving his historical plots a modern political sense is not such a new idea. What is really strong and works well here is the perfect fit between the characters as Shakespeare intended them and the background which is so different from the original historical one. Each one of the characters is both shakespearian as intended, a perfect citizen of the fictional time created by the director - a fascist England in the 30s - and more than everything else a human being: sensual, hating and loving as only humans do.

Perfectly acted, almost flawlessly directed, with very little overweight, this film is a feast for the intelligent spectator, a brutal, well-paced and expressive piece of art - and exactly as Shakespeare would have loved it, a mirror of his time, of our time, and of any time. 9/10 on my personal scale.
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8/10
The update to WW2 era works well
pekinman1 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I think updating Shakespeare's plays to more modern eras can be a good idea, but attempts quite often fail due to "modernizing" of the original text into the current vernacular, adding modern slang terms and modern pop-political slants and such things. Happily, Richard Loncraine's version of 'Richard III' works very well, being set in a surreal WW2 era setting, more reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' than London as it actually was at that time; an alternative world is suggested which adds a touch of nightmare-fantasy to the film.

I think this sort of intelligent interpretation of the text, placed into the mouths of people we can relate to more readily than we do to Elizabethan personages, is valuable and helps people otherwise unfamiliar with, or daunted by, Shakespeare's strange language is a good thing. All of life is covered in Shakespeare's plays, and after reading them it becomes apparent that nothing new has appeared in the world since, as far as fundamental life issues are concerned, making them invaluable tools in the history of literature as lynch-pins for people trying to navigate the shoals of human quirkiness without succumbing to depression and despair at the human condition. For instance, when O.J. Simpson's trial was going on I kept thinking of Othello and Desdemona, a tragedy of passion and murder being re-enacted for millions on the television.

Richard III is all about power and how it corrupts. Richard is presented as a Hitler-like character. It's an ugly story, yet the light of goodness shines through in the roles of the Duchess of York, Maggie Smith, and Queen Elizabeth, Annette Beining.

The cast is superb. I was put-off at first by Robert Downey Jr's Anthony, Earl of Rivers, because of his very-American accent. But Rivers has just returned from overseas, and given the setting, he could very well have returned from a long stint in New York. Once used to this he settled in nicely with the balance of the cast. Beining's accent is less noticeable. She is a fine, well-trained classical actress and knows what Shakespeare is all about. In the end she is a powerful foil to Ian McKellan's riveting Richard III.

The use of '40s swing tunes works wonderfully, I especially enjoyed the tune that accompanies Richard to his death, it's very funny, and horrifying all at once.

Even if you don't like Shakespeare I recommend this film. It's a great story and the technical aspects of it are top-drawer.
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Exceptional performances enhance timeless themes.
escoheag14 November 2004
Many productions throughout the years have presented Shakespeare in updated formats in order to make his plays more

contemporary with varying results. This production is one of the

most successful. Sir Ian McKellan's extraordinary performance

makes his character, although thoroughly self-serving, incredibly

magnetic. The film is enhanced by many other exceptional

performances, most notably by Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent

and Kristin Scott Thomas. The setting makes the story more

realistic to modern viewers, which helps it to avoid the stiff, stagy

quality seen in most productions of this work. Making

Shakespeare more accessible to today's viewers without

butchering his amazing language is no mean feat, but this film

accomplishes it handily.
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Delightful contemporary turn of a classic piece of literature.
Doctor_Bombay28 March 1999
When I see how wonderful this Richard III is, it immediately makes me question what in the world has Kenneth Branagh been doing all these years? Certainly nothing as imaginative, as provocative as this.

Deprived of Shakespeare as a child, I have been forced to catch up piece meal through film. Al Pacino's "Looking for Richard" gives attention to Richard III, from a far different perspective, but both that film and this agree that it has all the key elements of great drama: evil ambition, betrayal, rivalry.

The casting is tremendous with Ian McKellen (from his own stage play) and Kristen Scott-Thomas in the leads-thankfully there is no Kenneth Branagh to be found. And is this guy Jim Broadbent any good, or what? For my money he steals every scene he plays in "Little Voice", he's subtly brilliant here in a lesser role. Only Annette Benning seems a little overmatched in her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, but that's hardly surprising.

The accessibility of the current version, the setting in 1930's Fascist Europe, gives the story a vibrancy that is present from the first frame to the last.

Challenging, fun, and educative-far more than most films deliver. I highly recommend.
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10/10
A Modern Classic
Matthew Kresal9 August 2006
When it comes to updates of the plays by William Shakespeare, Richard III is probably the best of the lot. While it might seem like an unusual concept to take the classic play of deceit, betrayal, seduction, and cold-blooded murder out of the 1400's and into an alternate history 1930's version of England, the cast and production designs make that concept seem not only believable but so realistic you might find yourself wondering if this could really have happened if events had played out like they do in the film.

Ian McKellen plays the title role, the youngest brother of the royal family of the York's, who is determined to take the throne at whatever cost. McKellen's performance is chilling to say the least. From the moment he is introduced in a classic introduction to the battle sequence at the end of the film, McKellen makes the character of Richard seem to be the most evil villain ever to grace a movie screen as he is able to literally become the character in the vast web of deception via acting like he has no interest in taking the throne. One can't help but believe that Richard could really pull of the deceptions that he's able to pull off convincing people not only the public but members of the royal family and nobility. The character's various monologue's in which his thoughts are spoken aloud, giving the audience a glimpse into the tyrannical mind of this would be king / dictator are a highlight of the film especially at the film's beginning in which if one had any doubts about how evil Richard is are very quickly dismissed. McKellen sells Richard and he grips your attention to where your focus is entirely on him, making the trailer line about Richard being the "greatest villain of all time" ring very true and it's a shame that McKellen didn't even get an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Annette Benning plays Queen Elizabeth, the American wife of Richard's brother Edward. Many have complained about Benning in the role for various reasons including the fact that she is American and some question her acting ability. Benning, in my opinion, succeeds in making the idea of an American queen seem realistic and her acting talent matches up against McKellen in every scene the two are in together. Also keep in mind this is an alternate history, so an American queen of England isn't that unfeasible. Robert Downey Jr. plays her brother, Rivers. Rivers disappears about midway trough the film, but for the first half of the film, he is Richard's biggest enemy and his obvious dislike of Richard is evident in Downey's performance and the scene where his character meets his demise is shocking to say the least. Jim Broadbent plays the role of Buckingham, Richard's biggest supporter, with unnerving calm and his conniving attitude makes him almost as big of a villain as Richard. Kristin Scott Thomas is superb as Anne, the widow of one of Richard's victims who eventually falls for Richard and lives long enough to regret it. Her confrontation against Richard in a morgue towards the film's beginning stands out as one of the film's best scenes. Nigel Hawthorne's all too brief appearance as the plain and simple Clarence stands out as well, as does Maggie Smith's Duchess of York and John Wood's King Edward.

The concept of being updated to the 1930's is no more evident then in the production design. There is no doubt that we are in the 1930's and the filmmakers appear to have gone to great steps to make it evident that this is very much an alternate history. As I am sure others have commented this England is not the England we all know and love. Instead, one constantly gets the feeling that we are instead in a Nazi version of England. Everywhere in the film, in the costumes especially, the aura of Nazi Germany can be felt. Virtually all of Richard's costumes are based off German uniforms of the Nazi era, as are the uniforms worn by his supporters in the film's final half. If anyone doubts the influence of Nazi Germany on this alternate history version of England, look at the rally scene shortly before Richard is crowned. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that this scene is a case of déjà vu: it is almost identical to the well known documentary footage we have all seen of Nazi rallies right down to the flags that, while containing a boar instead of the swastika, still makes one think that they're in Nazi Germany.

The film's opening sequence with the classic sight of a tank crashing trough a wall and the film's final battle sequence also add to the feeling of this being in the 1930's. And to everyone out there who has commented about the red stars on some of the tanks here's why: if you knew about the war of the roses you would know that red was the color of the rose symbolizing the Lancaster family and that the white rose, seen on many of Richard's troops in the finale, was the rose representing the York family.

Also, Trevor Jones score is a must hear. The beautiful song at the beginning of the film sells the idea of the 1930's very well. The score, while at times going out of the 1930's, does the job of keeping the feeling of tension throughout the film and is another example of the talent of Trevor Jones.

Few films have the power to hold the attention of a viewer from beginning to end, especially when there is a large amount of dialog. But with the performance given by Ian McKellen, production design, battle sequences, and the score by Trevor Jones, Richard III easily counts not only as a must see but as a modern classic.
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9/10
An excellent adaption.
JFCole28 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
-Probable spoilers-

This is the first adaptation of Richard III I've seen, and I loved it. Transferring the play into the 1930s allows it a modern(ish) anchor that most Shakespeare adaptations fail at, giving it a better sense of authenticity rather than leaving it blowing in the historical wind. The curious mix of the 1930s setting with the fascist influences and the Shakespearean language gives it a fantastical, almost Brazil-like atmosphere, and both the drama and the war scenes are very well handled - it's hard to forget the opening image of a tank crashing through a wall.

As well as this, the performances are excellent, McKellen's Richard emphasising both the animal rage already associated with the character, and the charm that Richard possessed (he was in fact a well-liked king, until the rumours began to spread about the princes in the tower). Jim Broadbent and Annette Bening also deliver stand-out work, as the scheming Buckingham and the elegant Queen Elizabeth, and all the supporting cast make their mark - in particular, Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence giving his "...broken from the tower" speech, and Robert Downey Jr. arriving drunkenly on an airplane.

On the whole, this film is a great translation of the play, and certainly one of the most enjoyable Shakespeare films out there - 9/10.
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9/10
wonderful,great looking
ib011f9545i16 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I am surprised how many people seem to hate this film. I am not a Shakespeare expert,but I love history and the 1930s and 1940s are my favourite period,so I love the way the our odd Royal Family is shown in this film,we know that members of the royal family were pro fascist in the 1930s so why not update the original story. The locations and the production design are great and the acting is impressive throughout. As for the comment about the murder in bed,it seems like a good plan to me,if you were busy with a flight attendant you are not going to notice an assassin under the bed. If you have not seen this I urge you to do so,you can watch it as a war movie or as a version of the play.
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A brilliant film which offers fresh insight into both the play and some of the worst moments of the 20th Century
GusF11 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
As I said in my review of Laurence Olivier's 1955 film version, "Richard III" is my least favourite of the Shakespearean plays with which I am familiar as I don't think that its language and exploration of themes are on the same level as his best work such as "Hamlet" or "Macbeth". When it came to the Olivier film, I think that he forgot that he was a great actor and director while he was making it as his performance is too over the top and hammy and his direction is pedestrian. He failed to live up to the high standards that he set for himself on both fronts in "Henry V" and "Hamlet". Thankfully, this is a far, far superior version which has served to increase my appreciation for the play. As with most Shakespearean films, it makes changes to the play, the Bard's longest after "Hamlet". It only incorporates about half of the text, conflates several characters, cuts out others and reorders some of the events. At only 100 minutes, it's a very fast paced film.

Of the eight Shakespearean films that I have watched this year, this is the first in which the lead actor was not also the director. However, Ian McKellen did play another important behind the scenes role as he and the director Richard Loncraine wrote the screenplay. Loncraine does a wonderful job in the director's chair. The film has a great atmosphere and I love the cinematography. The film takes place in an alternate history fascist version of 1930s Britain. This is an excellent creative decision as Richard's rise to and consolidation of power is highly reminiscent of the Night of the Long Knives and, on the other end of the political spectrum, Stalin's Show Trials, given that he frequently uses trumped up charges to get his enemies out of his way. In the visual sense, many of the costumes are obviously based on Nazi uniforms and the scene in which Richard's accession is announced looks like something out of "Triumph des Willens". On an even simpler level, Richard has a moustache! In reality, Elizabeth Woodville belonged to a minor aristocratic family and was the first commoner to become queen. In the film, she is depicted as an American socialite reminiscent of Wallis Simpson and she and her brother Lord Rivers are looked down on because of it.

As the title character, Ian McKellen is absolutely remarkable. While Olivier's Richard was too obviously villainous, McKellen portrays him as a Machiavellian manipulator who skilfully moves all of the pieces into place to secure his accession to the throne without ever tipping his hand. He uses guile and subtlety to achieve his ends, playing the role of a loving brother to Edward IV and Clarence and a loving uncle to Edward V and the Duke of York. As in real life, it's not the villains who wear black hats and twirl their moustaches that you have to worry about; it's the one who take a more subtle approach, at least initially. In private, however, he relishes his status as a villain, delivering his soliloquies to the camera with a smirk. He even jumps for joy after he asks the Lady Anne, the widow of Henry VI's son the Prince of Wales whom he murdered days earlier, to marry him.

The film has a very strong cast overall. After McKellen, I thought that the strongest performer was Annette Bening as his sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville, who has a large role in the film as opposed to the character's fleeting appearances in the Olivier version. She is a very strong woman who, in one of the film's best scenes, openly accuses Richard of murder and refuses to allow her daughter Elizabeth to marry him. Bening is more than a match for McKellen in their scenes together. Another strong female character is Richard's mother the Duchess of York, whose role is merged with Henry VI's widow Queen Margaret. She grows to despise her son as the film progresses and his villainy becomes all the more apparent. I have to admit that I've never thought of Maggie Smith as highly as I think of other British actresses of her generation such as Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave or Glenda Jackson but she is excellent in the film.

Kristin Scott Thomas has less screen time but she excels in the aforementioned scene in which Richard proposes to her, delivering a wonderfully understated performance in contrast to Claire Bloom's caterwauling in the 1955 film. Jim Broadbent, in particular, and Tim McInnerny were cast against type as Richard's lackeys Buckingham and Catesby but they're both very good. Nigel Hawthorne is downright brilliant as Clarence, who is blind to his brother's true nature until it is far too late. He particularly excels in his monologue in the rain on the roof of the Tower of London. John Wood is excellent as the easily manipulated king Edward IV who trusts the wrong brother. One thing that is quite funny about the film is that Maggie Smith plays McKellen, Hawthorne and Wood's mother in spite of the fact that she is not only a mere five years older than McKellen but five years younger than Hawthorne and four years younger than Wood! Bill Paterson, Donald Sumpter, Jim Carter and Edward Hardwicke (whose father Cedric played Edward IV in the 1955 version) are all very effective in comparatively small roles. The weakest link acting wise is Robert Downey, Jr. I don't think that Shakespeare is really his forte but he's quite good. It's certainly not a disaster on the same level as Keanu Reeves' performance in "Much Ado About Nothing".

Overall, this is a brilliant film which offers fresh insight into both a 400 year old play and some of the worst moments of the 20th Century. It's a shame that McKellen and Bening didn't receive Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress.
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8/10
superb modern translation
TheNorthernMonkee5 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS Every year the Royal Shakespeare Company produces some wonderful performances of the bards plays. With an entire catalogue of actors, the company has produced some of (if not all) of Britain's best actors for decades now. One of these actors is Sir Ian McKellen, and one year while touring as Richard III, Sir Ian had the idea to write a modern twist on the tale. Relocating the story of the evil, disfigured king to a fictional 1930's Fascist Britain, McKellen has produced a sublime piece of cinema with top notch acting and some great cinematography.

In 1930's Britain, the House of York is on the throne. Led by King Edward IV, the family are happy and content. That is, all except Edward's crippled brother Richard (McKellen). With eyes on the throne, Richard will kill and scheme to get what he desires the most.

The play of "Richard III" is perhaps one of Shakespeare's most well known plays. Used at the time as propaganda against enemies of the Tudor Dynasty, Shakespeare corrupted the public view of Richard so successfully that to this day his lies about Richard resonate in History discussions.

Relocation of the story of Richard from it's original time frame to 1930's Britain was a masterstroke by Sir Ian McKellen. Using Nazi style clothing (McKellen even wearing a Nazi uniform for the majority of the film), banners (replacing the Swastika with Richard's Boar) and military processions, McKellen has created a twisted past. This Britain, this Fascist land with it's royal family in their clothes of the era, is a disturbing place which sticks in the mind long after the end of the film.

Another novel approach to the story is the notion of certain members of the family being American. Designed to represent the social climbing, the idea works brilliantly, with Annette Bening being the best of the American's involved.

There are problems with this adaptation however. Whilst both minor, and with good motivation, they do ring true. Firstly, the dialogue is trimmed by half. Whilst necessary to prevent the film becoming a four hour epic, it always feels like a minor tragedy when people begin to amputate Shakespeare's works.

The second problem with McKellen's work is to do with the soundtrack. Whilst the idea of getting a Marlow poem and setting it to 1930's music is an absolutely wonderful idea, it does ruin the end of the film. At the beginning we hear the music and we forgive it as it sets the scene. Come the final few scenes of the film though and the music ruins the mood. The jolly beat of the tune is unnecessary and destroys the tone of the conclusion. In effect it would be like something with a reggae beat playing in the background as the main hero died in a love story. Basically, whether good music or not, it is an inappropriate choice for the moment in time.

There's minor awkward flaws in Sir Ian McKellen's "Richard III", but with so many outstanding acting performances, and some stunning use of the time era, these flaws are forgivable. Whether as good as older interpretations of the story or not, this version of the tale is completely underrated and well worth a viewing.
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Brilliant!!! But traditionalists be warned...
scout-153 January 1999
I just rented this again for the 4th time. Maybe I should just buy myself a copy. It's among my top five movies of all time and perhaps my favorite Shakespeare adaptation. It's stunning, brilliant, and beautiful. If you like your Shakespeare with every forsooth and thee and thou spoken by actors poncing around in doublets, you'll want to avoid it. If you're a bit more daring, rent it. For the unbelievably gorgeous costumes and sets. For the modern fascist spin that gives the whole thing disturbing contemporary relevance. But most of all for the performances--from McKellan's mesmerizing turn as Richard to Nigel Hawthorne's sweet and simple Duke of Clarence. Even the smaller roles are perfectly cast. I enjoyed Adrian Dunbar's sadistic assassin, Domenic West's dashing Richmond, and Robert Downey Jr. as the playboy Earl Rivers. Annette Bening, I must say, is terrible as Queen Elizabeth. Completely unconvincing down to her wandering pseudo-aristocratic accent. I keep imagining her betters tittering with embarrassment every time the lesser-light Bening exited the "stage." A minor flaw, however, in a stunning movie. Rent it. Again and again!
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2/10
Modernization with no credibility
Erland Gadde25 April 2006
I just watched this awful movie on Swedish television, and I can't understand how so many reviewers can praise it. It doesn't matter how splendid the actors are if the setting isn't believable. It is in general very difficult to "modernize" historical plays/movies/novels, and in this case, the result was disastrous.

Moving Shakepeare to a fascist pre-WWII England in the way it was done here just doesn't work. Apart from the superficial features with clothes, cars, trains, tanks, flags etc, there was no resemblance at all to fascism or the politics of the pre-WWII era. In the 20th century, you simply can't have noble families who, obsessed with lineage, fight for the throne, neither in a Western democracy nor in a fascist state. This was typical for the feudal society Shakespeare wrote about; to move this to the 20th century creates nothing but a strange anachronism without any credibility. Instead, the noble families should have been transformed to political parties, or classes, or some other more modern type of groups fighting for power. And the so called "fascism" should have been depicted by letting us see how society was affected on a much deeper level, not just this superficial kitch with uniforms, flags, tanks, etc. If you don't think you can do this without being faithful to Shakespeare, then you should refrain from it rather than doing it in this poor superficial way.

I give it two stars, and that's being kind!

Erland Gadde
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4/10
Loncraine can smile, and murder Shakespeare while he smiles
Daniel R. Baker5 April 2000
Warning: Spoilers
(SPOILERS AHOY!!! Inasmuch as one can "spoil" one of the most famous plots in literature.)

Everything you have heard about this movie is wrong.

There was nothing wrong with the idea of setting RICHARD III in a 20th-century Fascist state; while I have never seen much good in moving Shakespeare's plays out of the setting for which they were written, it can be done without actually harming the story. Branagh has done it twice, with outstanding results in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and reasonably good results in HAMLET; Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise also did it with WEST SIDE STORY. And Richard's Machiavellian maneuvers should have lent themselves well to a Fascist backdrop.

But if you insists on moving Shakespeare out of his element, you must at least be true to the new setting you have moved him to. And it is instantly obvious that the setting of this RICHARD III is not 1930's Britain, or any other Britain that ever existed. Loncraine's crime was not so much that he updated Shakespeare but that he didn't update Shakespeare enough. You cannot keep dialogue that states that Clarence is being taken to the Tower of London, and then show him being imprisoned in what is obviously not the Tower. Richard is shown accusing his enemies of witchcraft; this made perfect sense in Shakespeare's time, but to hear it out of the mouth of a 1930's fascist dictator is ludicrous. Possibly most bizarre is to see Richard's British tanks as they lumber off to the battlefield, clearly painted with the red star of the Soviet Union!

Nevertheless, RICHARD III could still have been a good movie, but for several other miscues. The shavings from the plot twist the tale into a stupid mess. In the play, Richard's evil springs in large part from his inability to experience romantic love. Here, he so easily and expertly seduces Anne (Kristen Scott Thomas) that his initial complaints that he "cannot prove a lover" are impossible to believe. Loncraine and McKellen have deleted the reference to the prophecy that "G" (George of Clarence) will kill Edward's heirs, so Edward's orders to imprison Clarence make no sense. Then Edward signs a pardon which will spare Clarence from the death penalty. Richard intercepts the pardon and burns it to a crisp. This makes Tyrell's mission to murder Clarence a useless and stupid risk, since in the absence of the pardon Clarence would have been executed by royal order anyway.

Much has been made of Rivers' death scene, where an unknown assassin stabs him through his mattress as he cavorts with his lover. This is, firstly, the most ridiculous way to kill someone ever devised (suppose your target rolls over, or the lady gets underneath him?). Secondly, the scene is stolen directly from FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (and don't even think of using the words "homage" and "FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH" in the same sentence). If Loncraine must steal, one would think he would at least steal from *good* movies. Less derivative, but just as stupid, is the murder scene of the young prince Richard, where Tyrell smothers the unfortunate boy with a red silk handkerchief. I kid you not.

Reports of the acting have been greatly exaggerated. Ian McKellen, who is capable of much better than this, is shockingly hammy as Richard. He has two notes: gloating evil, and thinly disguised gloating evil. Not the slightest bit of motivation or depth of character have survived from the play. Equally hammy is Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Robert Downey Jr. as Rivers is more acceptable only because all the lines he is given call for extreme emotion. We do get some pretty good supporting performances: Maggie Smith is imperious as Richard's mother, and Jim Broadbent is perfect as Buckingham. Nigel Hawthorne's Clarence is convincingly mild-mannered and good-tempered; you know from the start that such a genuinely likable man hasn't got a chance against Richard, although he seems rather incongruous when one remembers what an arrogant, treacherous bully the historical Clarence was. While John Wood's role as Edward is thankless, he is perfectly cast and made-up to resemble McKellen. However, Dominic West's Richmond and Kate Steavenson-Pane's Princess Elizabeth are mere ciphers, and their romance is the most anemic ever to be filmed in soft yellow light.

The ending of this film is pure farce, containing one of the worst staged "battles" I have ever seen, where Richard's HQ, apparently undefended by any sentries, is attacked by complete surprise, soldiers crawl away from cover rather than toward it, men try to destroy buttoned-up tanks with machine gun fire . . . oh, forget it, I can't convey how stupid this scene is. And amazingly, Loncraine comes up with a final moment even dumber and more cliche than Shakespeare's. After duly following the ancient movie rule that the bad guy must always climb the highest structure in sight when the movie is nearing its end, Richard deliberately throws himself into a pile of burning rubbish, with an inane Al Jolson song playing in the background just to underscore how completely anticlimactic this whole affair has been. Hmmm, Ian McKellen throwing himself into a pile of flaming rubbish; isn't that a perfect metaphor for this entire movie?

It is telling that so many of the lovers of RICHARD III are detractors of Branagh. Almost all Shakespeare directors today (emphatically including Loncraine) seem determined to see how far they can substitute their own story for the Bard's original story; whether the new story is any good is completely irrelevant, so long as it is the director's story and not Shakespeare's. Branagh, by contrast, is concerned chiefly with using every technique in his power to enhance and vivify the original story, to make it everything it can be, rather than replace it with something else. Alone among modern Shakespeare directors, Branagh is not trying to hog the stage from the original author. And yet it's Branagh who is accused of egotism. Go figure.
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2/10
A re-staging nightmare
Kane-C28 June 1999
This is an example of how terribly re-staging of a play may fail. The original Shakespeare text with the new sets do not work at all, it almost seems like the crew has first made a movie about England in the 30's and then dubbed the movie to old English. The dialogue simply does not seem to belong to the movie. The only bright spot in the movie is Ian McKellen's performance as the horrifying Richard III. If you have ever read the original play, or seen any other, more traditional versions of Richard III, do not see this movie. This movie makes me wonder whether the movie crew wanted to make a tribute to The Bard, or an insult.
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4/10
Giving the Devil his due
Warning: Spoilers
(Some Mild Spoilers)

In all fairness, this film was neither excellent nor atrocious (as previous, conflicting commentaries have stated). It is mediocre for many of the same reasons Olivier's critically popular 1956 version was.

Most notably, Richard Loncraine has made the grave error of removing the character of Queen Margaret COMPLETELY. The only thing dumber than doing "Richard III" without Margaret is doing "Richard III" without Richard!!!

Sans Margaret, the dark sense of fate, destiny and curses fulfilled is obliterated. Instead, it becomes the story of an ordinary madman who goes on a politically motivated killing spree. Ho-Hum.

The 1930's costumes are elegant beyond belief in what is, essentially a grand cinematic joke; a highly conceptual "let's try it this way" approach to a legendary play. And, thankfully, the highly talented and prestigious cast is game. Too bad that the supporting characters are shredded to such a threadbare and skeletal state that most of these exceptional actors are given bloody little to do!

Example: What a waste to cast the great John Wood as Edward IV and cut the only speech of any significance that he has ("Have I a tongue to do my brother's death? And shall that tongue give pardon to a slave?") With this speech gone, the character is left with a paltry dozen lines at best. Wood deserved better.

It is unfair to complain too much about McKellen's hamminess since the tongue-in-cheek nature of the whole approach demands a somewhat over-the-top interpretation. On the other hand, to point out that Olivier was even hammier in comparison does not turn McKellen into the new Brando.

As for the seduction of Lady Anne showing inconsistencies in Richard's character? Loncraine filmed that scene pretty much as it was originally written. Don't blame him. Address your complaints to Mr. Shakespeare.

The complaint about this film being untrue to its period is technically accurate but I also agree with its refutation that this film is clearly set in a fantasy world. We already know this because England was never a Fascist state. If we object to a building that is obviously not the Tower of London being referred to as the "Tower of London," then we must also object to a man who is obviously not Richard III being referred to as "Richard III."

Ultimately, the film is clumsily done. Omitting certain predictions but then carrying them out makes for a singularly unsatisfying entertainment. However, it was, at least, interesting to watch. More than you can say for some previous interpretations of the play.
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10/10
Richard plays all around him like pawns on a chessboard as he fills his desire for power.
slyguy6611 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers: Don't read if you don't want to know about any characters death in advance. First off, I don't know a lot about Shakespeare. I don't know how loyal this film is to his original script, and thats not what I was looking for when I was watching. Honestly, I'm one of those who have 'old language' issues when I go see a movie. Indeed, I didn't even know the story of Richard III when I first saw this. Despite this, I loved this movie. Ian McKellen plays a deliciously evil man on his way up the royal ladder. To start, he kills the King, then while the queen sits at his coffin, comes to confess to her. In an performance dripping with slime, he claims his love for her was so great, he had no choice but to kill her husband. His speech oozes as he convinces her that if she doesn't accept his love, he'll kill himself. Sounds like something from "Melrose Place", I know. His character only gets dirtier as he then kills, or manipulates others to kill all those around him. Ian plays Richard as a man who enjoys the nasty things he does, and I enjoyed watching him worm his way. Annette Bening is fantastic and Robert Downey has one of the best deaths I've seen on film. The clothes and sets add to the movie perfectly. Instead of kingly robes, class and pageantry is displayed with slick uniforms and cigarette holders. The wartime setting is the perfect background and gives this classic story a modern feel.
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Slow?
ollyhogben10 April 2003
How one can call this slow is beyond me: it's by far the most imaginative and exciting film adaptation of "Richard III" around. McKellen's interpretation of the character is the most unique and potent I have seen, striking a perfect blend between loathsome and captivating (which is what how Richard must surely seem in order to captivate the audience). With a supporting cast containing the likes of Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Jim Broadbent and Tim McInnerny, you can't really go wrong with this brilliant film.
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1/10
One of the worst Shakespeare adaptations I've ever seen!
THFC2 December 1998
From the moment Ian McKellan (one of my all time favourite actors) began the famous opening speech in a ridiculous Winston Churchill drawl, I was appalled. Half way through the speech, which should NEVER be delivered to an audience, he wandered off at a tangent, omitting essential details about his plan to set his brother up as the murderer of King Edward ("Plots have I laid. Inductions dangerous / By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams / to set my brother Clarence and the king / In deadly hate the one against the other." etc). When the action moves on to Anne's "Set down your honourable load" speech at her husband's funeral we find that there's no one else to set down anything as she's alone in a morgue. I mean, I'm all for changing things around a bit, trying something different, but there's a limit to how much people should muck around with the few stage directions that Shakespeare indicated. Next, and most heinous of all, the language has been screwed up. Example, Lady Anne is supposed to say "Foul devil for God's sake hence and trouble us not / for thou hast made the happy Earth thy hell / filled it with cursing cries and deep exclaims." The lines that the excellent Kristin Scott-Thomas is compelled to deliver are "Foul devil for God's sake hence and trouble ME not / For YOU have made the happy Earth YOUR hell" etc. It is an insult to Shakespeare and to the intelligence of anyone watching this film to assume that we won't understand the original language.

It was at this point that, in danger of being unable to overcome the desire to put my foot through the screen, I switched of this terrible production. I tried switching back a few times (I know the text well enough to just "dip in" without losing the plot) but the film's total lack of respect for Shakespeare continued to make me see red. Although it's years too late to actually see the stage production, if you want an idea of the respect and love with which this play should be treated, I suggest you read Antony Sher's brilliant Richard diaries "The Year of the King". The preparation of the RSC's excellent production of this masterpiece is a far more compelling read than sitting through this bastardised film version.

AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE!
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7/10
Not as good as the Olivier version
crooow-25 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
First the good: the movement to modern neo-fascism was interesting, the twist on many of the speeches was fascinating (which is one of the pleasures of re-doing Shakespeare - viz. the interpretation), McKellen is great, and most of the supporting cast is solid.

What I didn't like as much: some of the choices regarding what dialogue to keep and what to discard. Losing some of the opening soliloquy was unnecessary and a crime to Richard III fans. Benning and Downey Jr are not good in this - I like them in other films but here they sounded as if they were reciting lines that they had carefully memorized - very unnatural. But mostly where I think this falls short of the Olivier version is in the believability of Richard as a charmer. Olivier makes you believe that Richard could fool people. In this version, Richard is so blatantly evil that nobody could be deceived by him. Maybe they aren't supposed to be in this version but Richard III is one of the all-time great villains because he could charm people (a la Hannibal Lecter). Not here.
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9/10
See it!
Eric Stevenson14 August 2017
I admit to being confused as to why this version of a Shakespeare play took place in much more recent times. At first, I thought it was talking about World War II, but instead it's some alternate civil war that the English fought. It's a pretty strange choice. It seems weird to modernize a story that wouldn't make sense within its new timeline. Still, this is a great movie if only because of the fantastic actors. I never realized how prolific Robert Downey Jr. is or how he's awesome in so many of his roles.

It's actually quite faithful to the play. Well, I actually think this was based on another play that was based on the original play. They do that with Shakespeare a lot, I suppose. With the most credited writer ever, that makes sense. The best parts are easily when Ian McKellan (Richard III) directly talks to the audience. You get a real sense of intimacy with this guy in those scenes. I'm glad he keeps it up. The best single part is the final battle scene which is well worth the wait. It didn't seem as violent as other Shakespeare films, but it does get better near the end. Any great actors with a great writer can work anywhere. ***1/2
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