I don’t think I ever realised how much of a titan in theatre and Shakespearean drama Ian McKellen was until I watched this film and did a bit of background reading on it. McKellen wrote the initial script himself and was the originator the whole project. You can really feel his passion throughout the whole thing. Not only is his performance as Richard totally paramount, but it feels like every other person on screen is there to bring his vision to life.
Personally, I kind of come and go with Shakespeare. His work is very overwhelming and the language a bit of a chore at times. You really need to sit down and tune into that shit to get the full-impact. I like the bold interpretations, of which Richard IIIcertainly holds company with. Repurposing the story to a fictional England in the 1930s and decking it out with fascist iconography is certainly a striking decision and goes a long way to juicing up the original material. Director Richard Loncraine also lends the film an almost action-movie sense of montage and pulsating energy. Shit blows up in this thing! And it ends in an almost complete inferno. I mean, the title appears on-screen one letter at a time to the sound of gunshots in blood-red lettering for crying out loud. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping about Shakespeare I don’t know what will.
For a certain generation this really is the definitive Richard III and I’m not surprised that it is considered something of a minor classic. McKellen rightfully dominates the film both in front of and behind the camera. The varied supporting cast is strong too with a lot of unexpected choices filling out the ensemble. I mean, Robert Downey Jr, Annette Bening? Maybe it’s just because I don’t necessarily associate them with this kind of material, but it works. And is part of what makes this film cool and relevant! I probably won’t return to it in the near-future but as a film I’ve always heard good things about (Roger Ebert included it in his “Great Movies” list), it was a nice film to scratch off of the old watchlist.