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Richard III
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on April 20, 2013
The most brilliant aspect of this film is that Sir Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine transported the story of the 1480s to a fiction 1930s, with Richard III as a Fascist dictator in the style of Mussolini.

Amazingly, the movie stays true to Shakespeare's words and story amid the 1930s, and the dialogue does not sound quaint or preposterous amid the 20th-century settings and costumes. McKellen's Richard dominates the film, of course, an anti-hero who breaks from his villainy to address the audience through the "fourth wall" and make them complicit in his trail of murder and power-grabbing.

Once Richard starts killing, of course, he can't stop...everyone he deals with has to die -- even his most loyal supporters. At the end, Richard is on his own, and truly "on top of the world."

A superb supporting cast, excellent directing, and a great adaptation of Shakespeare's words make this a memorable film.
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on July 4, 2013
I had just finished directing a stage production of this famous Shakespeare play when I decided to compare it with various professionals who had committed it to various videos. Frankly, after wading thru several truly heavy and bombastic presentations, I stumbled over the MGM version starring Ian McKellen in the title role. It was - and remains - marvelous! The time has been updated to the 1930's, and England had just passed beyond a bloody civil war. Edward sits on the throne, and his brother, Richard, plans his undoing. Where this version differs from others is that McKellen does not beat you over the head with testosterone. His performance is subtle, presenting almost delicate hues of interpretations to an iron-willed determination. I loved it! I understood it! The cast also boasts the presence of a young Annette Bening and a decidedly boyish Robert Downey Jr. (And, as gifted as these performances are, they pale compared to McKellen.)
I can't recommend this version enough. I think even old Will Shakespeare would have purchased a copy of this one.

Jack Petersen
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on March 8, 2017
I had the unforgettable privilege of seeing Sir Ian performing Richard III live on stage. Am very grateful to have that performance captured on film. Thank you.
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on March 20, 2017
Great cast, wonderful re-imagining, & Sir Ian is top notch (as usual)!
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on November 24, 2012
Sir Ian McKellen triumphs again. He keeps us very much in line with our perception of the Humpy Richard without shoving it into our faces. It is there, but is it the pure evil genius of the King we grow to quickly despise and it is only knowing he gets it in the end that stops us climbing into the screen and punching him out.
The locations chosen are familiar to most British viewers and yet - different. I have been by Battersea Power station many times but never has it creeped me out until now.
The cast is superb, even, (gasp) American actors in major roles of a Shakespeare play. I refer to Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. But on that, it is Ms Bening so all is possible.
So many names, so many parts. All good. Nigel Hawthorne as George, Duke of Clarence needs special mention. Our sympathy for this loyal Royal brother is tested when we see how, in the end, his it treated. This is a great moment for the late Sir Nigel H.
Buy, watch, enjoy.
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on December 16, 2011
Okay, it doesn't follow Shakespeare's words, exactly as others have pointed out, and to some degree, the characters are caricatures. But, that's what makes it work in a 1930s setting. The strangeness is what makes it so much fun.

Yes, I said fun. A bit of background. I had seen this movie, years ago and while I enjoyed it, I don't think I was quite ready for it. Recently, when I learned a "modern" version of Coriolanus was being released, I thought of this movie and decided to buy it. After all, I was inexpensive, enough. This time, it was like a whole new experience. I sat there, enthralled by what I was seeing. At times, I laughed, thinking, "what an evil bastard you are", and realizing how much Richard enjoyed being evil.

If you are a purist, this movie may not be for you, but if you are open minded, this is a visually interesting movie that does Shakespeare in a fascinating setting.
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on June 25, 2016
I wanted to have this for my personal library for a long time. Now I own it. I am a modern woman born 1943, in Germany and can certainly relate to the times. They way it was presented is outstanding. There are many such efforts with other Shakespearean plots but I have not seen many. We could all do with innovative ideas in the arts instead of the moronic tripe thown at the masses these days..
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on March 2, 2009
This is a 1995 cut down version of Shakespeare's popular play Richard III. The condensing of the play and some of the characters was probably not popular with Shakespearean purists and those who are familiar with, and love, the full play. The setting has also been changed from the last half of the 1400's to about the 1930's and the images strongly and deliberately resemble the nazis of WW2. The ending has also changed. Sir Ian McKellen's performance is outstanding and the change of the opening line from a monologue to a speech is brilliantly inspired as is the change of venue when he talks about King Edward bedding other women. The film's concept was based on a stage production directed by Richard Eyre for the Royal National Theatre, which also starred McKellen. The production was adapted for the screen by McKellen and directed by Richard Loncraine.
The play also stars Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas , Dame Maggie Smith, John Wood and Dominic West. I have nothing bad to say about this version of the play, other than to state the acting of the two token Americans (Queen Elizabeth and her merged family members) painfully stands out as being over the top.
I think this is a brilliantly clever introduction to Richard III. The cutting down and re-staging the play means it is instantly understandable and accessible to people who are just starting to expose themselves to Shakespeare's plays. I would recommend this version of the play to everyone and am very glad to finally be able to purchase it. I will watch it regularly and commit some of the opening scene to memory.

I would also recommend the DVD, Looking For Richard, as another way to have more of the play's text and context explained.
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on April 3, 2007
I had long wanted to see this adaption of one of my favorite plays, intriguingly set in World War I Britain, and thought it would be the perfect way to introduce a friend of mine to Shakespeare. The film begins with great promise, with an exciting opening sequence showing the end of the War of Roses and Henry VI and a thrilling take on Richard's opening monologue. Within thirty minutes, however, the film begins to drag and lacks any driving action throughout. While individual scenes feature stand out performances and excellent use of the language (the immortal Sir Ian shines, of course, as a true master of his art), there are often long breaks between scenes and long periods without dialogue. Just like on the stage, long silences in Shakespeare tend to make the whole thing fall flat and the audience (me, in this case) begins to find it all a bit tedious by Act 4. I tried to remain hopeful, however, as the film seemed to be ramping up to a final showdown, and I was eager to see Sir Ian's deliciously evil Richard get his just reward at last. The ending, when it finally arrives, is jarringly abrupt (cutting the last scene of Shakespeare's play entirely), and so bizarre and unsatisfying that I found myself watching the credits in disbelief.

In general, an example of project with high quality individual elements (a solid cast, a fairly good cutting of the text until the end, and a fascinating concept and setting) that just weren't combined skillfully enough to make the film rise above the level of mediocrity. Those with a love of the play and of Shakespeare in general will find much of it interesting, but, as I discovered, it is not a good choice of a film to win over the Shakespeare disinclined among us.
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on April 20, 2004
The greatest aspect of this film is its look. With extravagant costumes and glorious set designs, there is ambitious detail in every scene. The problem with a film looking this gorgeous is that many of the performances are often overwhelmed with the color and sparkling detail surrounding them. As a result, only two performances stand out. Annette Bening has seldom behaved so furious in any of her other roles, and it was a breath of fresh air to see any of the characters fight back against the tyranny and betrayal of Richard III. Her performance is excellent, and glows accordingly. The other great performance is, of course, Ian McKellen and his diabolical and just plain evil portrayal of the title character. He oozes with lust and is oftentimes disgusting to look at as a result. This is another notable performance in a long list of superb roles for Ian McKellen. There is a small role for Maggie Smith which she relishes, yet she has only one fantastic scene where she reprimands her son Richard for being the foul human being that he has become. I thought she was going to spit. The rest of the cast is either forgettable or wasted. Kristin Scott Thomas has the famous scene with Ian McKellen where Richard III woos her character while she mourns her husband's death. She knows full well that is was Richard who killed her husband. I have never been able to believe this scene, regardless of the performances. If she truly loved her husband as much as she says, and loathes Richard with as much passion, she could never be tempted to either forgive his actions let alone lay them aside and go to his bedchamber. Surely, she is in a weakened state, and perhaps susceptible to persuasion, but that is simply too much to ask. Robert Downey Jr. has a throwaway performance. He is a great actor, but the role he has here is limited and really could have been portrayed by any decent actor. Overall, the film is gorgeous to look at, and is certainly worth watching for the grand acting of Ian McKellen and Annette Bening.
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