Watch the Bard Week: Richard III

Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.


Richard IIIRichard III (1995) – Rated R

One-Line Review: Watch this outstanding movie now – the DVD is out of print.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule.”

This version of Richard III is my favorite cinematic adaptation of the Bard. The alternate reality director Richard Loncraine creates for Richard III is inventive and fun. It was nominated, with good reason, for Oscars in the art direction and costuming categories. There is a wonderfully visual artistic sequence that I don’t want to spoil, save to say that Captain America appropriated it to good effect.

Ian McKellan gives a bravura, impish performance as the titular monarch. Even with later signature roles such as Gandalf and Magneto and a wonderful turn in Apt Pupil, I think this is his best performance. McKellan dominates every scene and single-handedly carries the film. He doesn’t need to though as he is supported by a stellar cast.

The cast is simply amazing. On the distaff side, Richard III stars Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, and the always wonderful Maggie Smith in juicy roles. Robert Downey Jr. is Lord Rivers and a veritable who’s who of British character actors are in support (Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, John Wood, Edward Hardwicke, and even comedian Tim McInnerny as Catesby).

People Watch: Look for a young (okay, younger) Jim Carter as Lord William Hastings though you will recognize him as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey.


Aliens Attack! Downton Abbey Edition

Okay obviously aliens do not attack in Downton Abbey but my wife and I just finished the first series of Downton on Netflix and I thought I would interrupt to post a quick review.

One line review: Upstairs, Downstairs on steroids.

Downton Abbey (2010)

“Exposing the snobbery, backbiting and machinations of a disappearing class system, this series chronicles the comings and goings of the upper-crust Crawley family and their assorted servants.”

Downton Abbey was in my queue forever. I had heard how good it was but it is not a genre I would normally watch and BBC series (the better ones) require your full attention. Downton Abbey is a prime example. If you like doing other things while watching TV (reading, surfing the net, etc.) then this is probably not a good choice for you.

Downton Abbey is amazing. The acting is superb – I thought every character was well-realized and there was not a weak performance in the bunch. Maggie Smith is wonderful as always BUT part of how she is wonderful is that she reacts well to the other actors and underplays her character when necessary.

I have never seen a show with so many significant glances – another reason you have to pay absolute attention to everything going on. A lot of what is going on is actually different from what is stated.

All of the characters are highly complex, although they do make it clear who you should root for and which characters are villainous. The only exception to this seems to be Lady Mary as the show puts her in a sympathetic position yet she makes one heinous decision after another.

Creator/writer Julian Fellowes chose a wonderful period to set the series. Downton Abbey runs seven episodes and covers the period from April 1912 (Sinking of the Titanic) through July 1914 (the start of World War I). While issues pertinent to the era are mentioned (suffrage being the most prominent), the majority of the show is just showing the life and times of Earl of Grantham’s family contrasted with that of the help at Downton Abbey.

The budget for the show must be phenomenal. Costuming is marvelous and all the ladies wear incredible hats. A few anachronisms aside, the attention to detail is amazing. It would be easy to watch this show just for the eye candy but then you would miss the superb acting.

Please be aware that not much actually happens in the show – this is primarily a British acting showcase and secondarily a look at life among the rich pre-World War I.

THE FUTURE OF DOWNTON ABBEY: The second season/series of Downton Abbey is supposed to be available on Hulu starting July 7th. No word yet on Netflix or Amazon instant. There is a Christmas special and the third series is just about to start filming.

Shakespeare week – Richard III

This is Shakespeare week on Instant Netflix. Another inventive adaptation of the Bard is Richard III by Richard Loncraine. Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Richard III (1995) – Rated R for violence and sexuality.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeares classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule. Richard plots against his brother, Edward (John Wood), in his quest to usurp the throne, and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his goal. The film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design.”

“I that am rudely stamped, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…”

For all the inventiveness of Romeo + Juliet, Richard Loncraine got there a year earlier with Richard III. Richard III begins with a teletype machine hammering out a message about the war and segues into a 1930s style war room and from there… well lets just say that that would be a visual spoiler only a few minutes into the film. Seriously though even if you do not choose to watch the film, watching the first three minutes will give you a wonderful idea of its chutzpah.

Star Ian McKellan co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Loncraine. While they have rewritten Shakespeare, fear not – The House of York speech and much of the original dialogue remains intact.

Ian McKellan is absolutely stunning as Richard. This should come as no surprise to those who have seen him steal every scene as Magneto in the first three X-Men movies or again every scene as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is practically a one-man show (as Richard III often is) and McKellan is riveting, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the camera.

McKellan is ably supported by John Wood as King Edward IV, Jim Carter as Hastings, and Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence. Jim Broadbent is very impressive as Buckingham. Robert Downey Jr. acquits himself well as Rivers but his recent performances have been more nuanced than this.

On the distaff side, Annette Bening makes quite a good American Queen Elizabeth but Kristin Scott Thomas has the juicier role as the cursed Lady Anne, a year before Kristin earned an Oscar nomination for The English Patient. She even gets to spit on Ian. It is of course a given that Maggie Smith is compelling as the Duchess of York.

While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for both Best Costume Design (Shuna Harwood) and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration (Tony Burrough). It lost both to Restoration. The set design, costuming and even the choice of setting in Richard III are fabulous as each descends into darkness and severity as Richard comes ever closer to his goal of the throne.

While there are a few niggling plot holes, due to Shakespeare and streamlining in equal measure, the film overall is quite wonderful and definitely a showcase for Ian McKellan.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder ninny Tim McInnerny as a very serious Catesby and The Wire star Dominic West (James McNulty) in his feature film debut as the Earl of Richmond.