domingo, junho 05, 2016

Oh My God! It’s That Man Again!: "The Hollow Crown II - Richard III"

No one really knows and most likely will never know what really happened whilst Richard was king; it is a very touchy subject for some people. I wish we could know. But I think we all were privileged to be around when Richard's skeleton was unearthed - that to me was a miracle for someone who loves history. I don't think of myself as a Yorkist or a Lancastrian, I am fascinated by earlier Lancastrians and all the Beauforts and their descendants, who, of course, were on both sides in the Wars of the Roses.

Personally, I found Benedict Cumberbatch's performance uncomfortable to watch to the extent that it didn't match what we now know of Richard's physical condition, and I had to keep reminding myself he was playing *Shakespeare's* Richard. Richard's monstrousness was an important part of Tudor propaganda, and Shakespeare either believed it, or thought it prudent - or artistically rewarding - to portray him in that way. What I'll never understand is why Richard's supporters want to turn him into a saint. I remember, when I was a student, my teacher Vicki Hartnack warning us against the Richardian position saying, "Whatever he may or may not have done, he was no ewe lamb," because a gentle soul could not have achieved what he achieved. That said, I was still uncomfortable with Benedict Cumberbatch's performance, that twisted dragging body, especially when he had no shirt on - that extreme twisted hump. (I'm sure I'm not describing it adequately). I think the director's decision to play up Richard as a PTSD case was also essentially wrong. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a revival (I’m not even sure it’s the right word) for interpreting Shakespeare in the light of 20th century psychology. The latest Macbeth by Justin Kurzel is another case in point where PTSD is brought to the fore. For me the best thing about the play is that Richard is reveling in his own evil whilst presenting a front of virtue and it is disturbingly funny. The first two scenes - the 'sun of York' soliloquy and the black comedy seduction of Anne jarred instead of logically fitting together. The 'pious Richard' reluctantly accepting the crown was done quite well but didn't really fit with other parts of this BBC’s adaptation.

It is funny thinking of Richard as a saint, but not all that far-fetched when you think of the people who were handed out the sainthoods in those days. Having watched recently a documentary about his armour, it seemed to me likely that no one but his immediate family would have known about his scoliosis until his body was stripped naked on the battlefield, thrown over a horse and paraded through the streets. If so, what an impact that must have made! And that's why I found myself having to make an effort with The Hollow Crown II’s Richard III. I agree that Benedict Cumberbatch's performance was excellent, especially in HVI part2, but his Richard III, uhm... The three handed scene with Judi Dench and Keeley Hawes was superb (helped by the power of Shakespeare’s writing and the fact that we'd seen the back story).

What’s with all the sex in today’s shows? Even in a Shakespeare production! I think the problem nowadays is that everything has to have sex in it to sell. Because we needed sex to lure people to watch something and to spice things up and make it more like “Game of Thrones” since most of the promotion for Hollow Crown is built on how much Hollow Crown is as cool as Game of Thrones. The BBC are making an adaptation which requires reforming Shakespeare's drama into a saleable package and making money to pay for the next adaptation. There’s no other way to look at it. 

Bottom-line: along with the rest, this was the clincher that ruined it for me. Fortunately there was Sophie Okonedo to save it. What really made my day was Sophie Okonedo, who managed to be both brilliant and at times absolutely terrifying (that scene from Act 1 where she emerges to curse all those present especially). Brilliant acting to say the least. She really knocked it out of the park. Along with Cumberbatch, I also couldn't take Luke Treadaway seriously at all. Halfwit, open-mouth and uninspiring to the point where I was sort of willing Richard III to win the battle.

Richard III is probably my favourite villain in all of Shakespeare. He’s an evil git, but a brave, lonely evil git. That’s enough in my book.

NB: All snapshots taken by me from the film.

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