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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMEon September 27, 2000
Every since Orson Welles and John Houseman started the trend of updating Shakespeare, there have been several innovative interpretations of the Bard. More so that the drug lord culture of 1996's "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet," this 1995 version of "Richard III" cast in Edwardian England is a successful addition to the tradition. Of course it has one big advantage over other such films in that it is based on the captivating stage production by Ian McKellen and Richard Eyre. Certainly McKellen is totally comfortable in his role, adding a 20th century venire of evil to the calculating Duke of Gloucster on his way to the crown. This Richard is readily accessible to a contemporary audience.
But there is one extremely important caveat to enjoying this film: you have to be familiar with the original play, otherwise you will totally lose the irony of the alterations. For example, in the play Richard woos his intended bride as she follows the casket containing her husband, who had been slain by Richard, who at one point ponders whether a woman had ever been wooed let alone won in such a manner. In the film version the scene takes place in a morgue, with the dead husband lying on the gurney. The scene is gruesome, something you would expect in a splatter flick rather than Shakespeare, but has a certain validity given the original scene. It is, after all, just a question of setting. But if you are not well versed in "Richard III," you simply can not appreciate the McKellen version.
Of course, this is a marvelous opportunity for teachers who can screen the film, or key scenes, after students have read the play. Imagine the discussions you can have on the range and validity of interpretation available. You can do the same sort of thing with "MacBeth"/"Throne of Blood," "King Lear"/"Ran," or the Olivier/Branagh versions of "Henry V." Or you can just enjoy this film at home and mull over such wonders on your own.
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