Sunday, August 15, 2010
Richard III -- A Villain For The Ages
That is Richard. Everything he does stems from this description of himself and his desires. As fourth in line of succession, the King’s two very young sons and Richard’s own brother, the Duke of Clarence (Sir John Gielgud), stand in the way. Gielgud gives a remarkable performance of Clarence, particularly when he describes his prophetic dream about his own death while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Richard is also determined to marry the Lady Anne (Claire Bloom), of Lancaster royal blood, partly from lust, partly from desire for a further royal alliance to strengthen his aim. The fact that Richard had just killed Anne's husband in battle did not sway him from seducing Anne right by the coffin of her dead husband. Anne, a devastated wife and frightened, weak woman, allowed herself to be seduced by Richard's "honeyed words." This tells us that despite his appearance and villainy, Richard could charm like a snake. Richard even goes so far later in the story as to try to marry his own niece for further royal affiliation. As he moves inexorably toward his ultimate aim, Richard is assisted by the Duke of Buckingham (Sir Ralph Richardson) and the aforementioned murderer Tyrell. Horrific events abound, and the story is told superbly to its bloody end.
The cast, which does not boast of as many “Sirs” as Olivier’s version, is sometimes unusual and works beautifully. Annette Benning plays Elizabeth, Edward IV’s wretched widow queen trying to protect her 2 sons, with great elegance and style, showing real acting chops. Jim Broadbent as the evil Duke of Buckingham is a cigar-chomping, pot-bellied businessman who helps Richard with a smile and a wink. Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence is pitiable, and performs the famous soliloquy in the Tower of London with subtlety and grace. Kristin Scott Thomas is the Lady Anne, devastated by her husband’s death, seduced by Richard, and pitifully aware of her downfall. Robert Downy, Jr. is a surprise as Elizabeth’s brother, Lord Rivers. Downey apparently wanted the part so much that he cleared his calendar after the offer from McKellan. He does well playing the part of Rivers as a loving brother and appealing drunk. I must say that one of my favorites of this great cast is Adrian Dunbar, who plays the murdering Tyrrel. In Olivier’s film, Tyrrel was willing to do the deeds, but seemed much more reluctant and sensitive about it, particularly with the little princes. But Dunbar’s Tyrrel is not reluctant or sensitive. Richard, having been told Tyrrel is the kind of man he is looking for, meets him in a hog barn where Tyrrel is feeding apple pieces to the pigs. Richard asks him “Darest thou resolve to kill a friend of mine?” to which Tyrrel answers in a blasé tone “Ay, my lord, but I had rather kill two enemies.” (It is plain Richard means the two little princes.) Richard then throws a piece of apple into the pen, hits a hog with an apple hard enough to make him squeal, and the two men smile. The ending of the film is done with dark humor, as we see Richard for the last time, going to his death laughing, to the strains of an old recording of Al Jolson's "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World." Marvelous.