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Shakespeare And Movie Versions > Richard III with Ian McKellen

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm new here, guys, and I just saw Ian McKellen's 1995-version of Richard III. As usually, McKellen was incomparable (he really is the world's best actor); but I'm not sure the 1930's-1940's militaristic, fascist, dictatorial setting worked for me. I don't usually like it with Shakespeare (mostly because the language seems so out of place in a time we have documented photgraphically and cinematographically), and find it detracts from the Shakespereanness of the whole thing. I can understand why McKellen did what he did (trying to make it modern and accessible and whatnot), but I'm not sure it was as poignant as if it had been a bit more antiquated in setting. I don't know, does anyone else agree with me? or do you all love that bringing of Shakespeare into our daily lives with the settings, &c.


message 2: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 91 comments I used to be a purist about Shakespearean settings but, over the years, I have softened on the topic. Sometimes, the experiment of setting a story in a time to which it applies thematically -- if not historically -- can work quite well. It requires good judgment and a good sense of balance on the part of the director, but it can be excellent.

I am not a great fan of the McKellen Richard III for reasons that have nothing to do with the setting (comparing Shakespeare's Richard with Mussolini etc. is potentially very interesting). My complaint with this (as with most productions of this play) is that it is way too heavily cut. Shakespeare's original Richard III runs just over four hours. While I appreciate that most of today's audiences don't have the capacity for such a marathon, the editing must be done judiciously and some remnants of the play's themes should remain.

The skeletal version directed by Richard Loncraine (not McKellen himself) completely removes the character of Queen Margaret from the proceedings and, with her, we lose all element of curse, and fate, and destiny and are left with a fairly ordinary tale of a political serial killer. Ho-hum.

Logan makes a worthy point about the incongruity between the Elizabethan language and the filmically documented time period but I am personally less bothered by that than he. Especially when we consider that Shakespeare's own productions at the Globe intermixed modern (by his standards) dress with little costume items from the period (such as ancient Rome or Greece depending on the play), this may have been a factor in my softening my position on modern dress.

One notion I most vehemently oppose (and I've probably mentioned this before in this forum) is the notion that we must use modern dress to make Shakespeare's work "more accessible". This is the most grotesquely insulting disservice a director can perpetrate against his audience. Either Shakespeare's writing is already accessible or it is not. If it is not, changing the clothes will not make it so. If it is, leave it the hell alone.


message 3: by Terence (new)

Terence (spocksbro) | 14 comments Costuming and transposing Shakespeare's plays (as McKellan doees in Richard III) works or doesn't depending upon why the production is doing it and how carefully they've thought things through. In McKellan's case, I think the fascist setting works very well. After all, whether you're a fan of Richard III or bow to the Tudor party line, medieval nobles were little different from latter-day fascist thugs in method or motivation.

On the other hand, I've seen a production of (I think) As You Like It set in medieval Japan that made no sense at all.

And I saw an Othello with a '50s motif that appears to have been adopted because the theater (a college) had a bunch of leather jackets and poodle skirts in their costume department.

Or there's Masterpiece Theatre's adaptation of Othello where the Moor is the first black police chief of London and Iago (played brilliantly by Chris Eccleston) is his second in command (interestingly, and perhaps a reflection of our own cynical age, Iago becomes chief of police at the end).

And, finally, while I'm thinking of it - There's McKellan's and Judi Dench's minimalist version of Macbeth, which I didn't like as much as I'd hoped. I prefer the spectacle and costumes, I think.

And to briefly touch upon Matthew's point about cutting so much out of Richard III: I'd recommend the BBC TV adaptations - They cut nothing and have the added advantage of (generally) excellent casting.


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

I would not say that I'm a purist: I like modern settings or dress that's played with—if it illumines the plot! If I only put on Othello in '50's-dress because it's cheaper and more convenient, it becomes an unnecessary distraction: because people will try to find meaning in the dress, the setting, &c. My main problem with Richard III is that it was made the way it was, as both have said, to make Shakespeare more accessible. (And, by the by, Shakespeare is accessible, for those with the time and appreciation to access him. It took me a few months, but, yes, I now can just dive into a new play by Shakespeare as though it were popular sci-fi.) The point of changing dress and setting should be to prove the accessibility of Shakespeare, not to make Shakespeare accessible.

Incidentally, my favourite film of all time, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, illustrates this point well. It is long, it has every line, and it has no amazing special effects, &c. (although the cinematography is phenomenal); and yet, this film greatly altered my interest in Shakespeare. For if we play we the existing text, rather than cut existing plot or simply use setting to make highly vapid and pretentious points, we can come up with something nearer to Shakespeare; and, in my opinion, we can come up with something more meaningful and 'accessible'—for, come on! no one can write like Shakespeare did. These directors and actors think they can play with the words to make audiences clap, yes, but at the end of the day it's Now is the winter of our discontent, not whether or not the play is about fascism or authentic, antique England. I think Branagh uses the setting and costume to his advantage (not only does he occasionally enhance the theme with it, but it also detracts nothing from the play—for the language of Shakespeare does not seem out of place in Victorian, aristocratic England); McKellen's Richard III, however, fails, I think, in that it makes too great a change from the beauty and meaning of Shakespeare's poetry by transporting the setting. I almost laughed when McKellen said A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse! and I think that line illustrates it all: if we had been able to believe that this Richard III owned or even cared about horses or their utility in his post-equestrian-combat England, then perhaps I could have bought the change in setting (of course, I simply mean that this line was a summary, or an indicator, of everything I had been slightly bothered by in the setting, dress, &c.).


message 5: by Anna (new)

Anna (SylviaGrant) | 9 comments Ian McKellen is such a teddy bear!!! I can't imagine him as Richard III.


message 6: by Joseph (new)

Joseph (jsaltal) | 1 comments I enjoyed this version. I own it on DVD.


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