1995: Richard Longcraine
Massively acclaimed when this was first released, and based on a celebrated production spearheaded by Sir Ian McKellen, this is brilliantly cinematic, filled with a range of remarkable actors, and, for my money, largely a waste of time.
The chief point here seems not to be the play itself at all, but the arch ingenuity entailed in retrofitting it to the the high-concept setting. Everything is recast in a period roughly approximating the 1930s or 1940s, and Richard and all his company are given a Nazi makeover and hijacked to serve an aesthetic more appropriate to Cabaret than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. The corruption of the court is signaled by the glitzy cocktail parties, hazed with cigarette smoke and fringed with people injecting themselves with one drug or another. People are blasted away with machine-guns and flamethrowers; Kristen Scott Thomas (brilliantly but pointlessly) plays a degenerate Anne who conducts her wooing interviews with Richard apparently under the influence of heroin. Somehow that makes Richard’s achievement in winning her over somewhat less impressive, and it makes her own pain considerably less sympathetic.
All the while the characters continue to speak Shakespeare’s English about events that are increasingly unconnected with what we’re being shown. At the beginning, maintaining this tension is a strain, but at least amusing; as the play progresses it sags more and more under the weight of maintaining the preposterous metafiction, and more and more of the text has to be discarded outright on the way. Ultimately Richard delivers his famous line, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” because he cannot get his Jeep started. By the end, all that’s left is a shell of fatuous cleverness. Richard ends up dying in a pistol-duel on some unfinished buildings, and plunges to his death in a fiery cinematic effect not really worthy of a B-list science fiction film of the 1930s. All in all, it’s a disappointing expenditure of a phenomenal amount of acting and directorial talent.
The film is for the most part well-made, but I for one have to question whether it was really worth the effort. Those concerned for exceptionable content will probably also want to skip it, given its graphic violence, nudity, sexually explicit behavior, and drug use — none of it (of course) native to Shakespeare’s own text.
1st Subaltern: James Dreyfus
2nd Subaltern: David Antrobus
Archbishop: Roger Hammond
Ballroom Singer: Stacey Kent
Brackenbury: Donald Sumpter
Catesby: Tim McInnerny
City Gentleman: Bruce Purchase
Duchess of York: Maggie Smith
Duke of Buckingham: Jim Broadbent
George, Duke of Clarence: Nigel Hawthorne
George Stanley: Ryan Gilmore
Henry, Earl of Richmond: Dominic West
Jailer in Tower: Andy Rashleigh
James Tyrell: Adrian Dunbar
King Edward IV: John Wood
King Henry VI: Edward Jewesbury
Lady Anne: Kristin Scott Thomas
Lord Hastings: Jim Carter
Lord Mayor: Denis Lill
Lord Rivers: Robert Downey Jr.
Lord Stanley: Edward Hardwicke
Prince Edward: Christopher Bowen
Prince of Wales: Marco Williamson
Princess Elizabeth: Kate Steavenson-Payne
Queen Elizabeth: Annette Bening
Ratcliffe: Bill Paterson
Richard III: Ian McKellen
Rivers’ Mistress: Tres Hanley
Young Prince: Matthew Groom