domingo, junho 11, 2017

Popcorn Shakespeare: "The Hollow Crown I - Richard II" by Rupert Goold, Starring Ben Whishaw

Well, was last night's "Richard II" well worth watching? 

The director conveyed the story, the plot, as clearly as any director is ever likely to. And the location shooting was superb, both indoor and outdoor, truly aiding the action and showing off this island's ancient history to the global market. However, although "Richard II" is entirely written in carefully-designed and charming verse, one only heard snatches of it, and then only from the actors David Suchet (expected from such an experienced and accomplished actor) and, surprisingly, from young Ben Whishaw. If other actors in this production thought they were delivering the verse, they failed to convey it. Rory Kinnear (Bolingbroke) seemed to have learnt his lines entirely unaware that they were not written in the form of prose. And how my heart sank when occasionally Shakespeare clearly intended for us to hear two adjacent lines rhyme but the actor intentionally avoided it, minimising it, as if honouring Shakespeare's intention would create a detraction or distraction! So, I hope that in some years' time we will be treated to a similarly magnificently-shot production in which Shakespeare's splendid verse is not so lazily, or perhaps arrogantly, ignored. I was disappointed. Great cast, good acting but too much of the director with all the 'let's shoot scenery and iconic images' and not enough of the play. 

No one has yet remarked on how heavily it was cut, and that the cutting took out the political basis of the conflict between Bolingbroke/Gaunt and Richard. It must be there to explain the reason for the argument between Bolingbroke and Mowbray and the murder of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester - Richard's uncle and Gaunt and York's brother - and that Richard is complicit in this. (Which sets up Bolingbroke's final lines over Richard's corpse.) So, we lost the Duchess of Gloucester, and more importantly Harry Percy's pledge of allegiance to the future Henry IV which sets up their relationship in Henry IV Part 1. Wouldn't matter if this production stood alone and wasn't the first of the cycle. Which also leads to the question, why have Aumerle/Rutland replace Exton as Richard's killer? He is York's heir so will become the Duke of York who dies embraced by the Duke of Suffolk at Agincourt - described in Henry V - and presenting a comment on what develops in the Henry VIs. If there are some performances seen as weak it's because they've lost lines to allow shots of Richard on an ass. I think there are a few directors who need to be constantly reminded of Hamlet's advice to the players about considering the 'necessary question of the play'. Fortunately, as is frequently said about theatre productions, the text is still there for everyone to read and others to perform.

I thought Richard II was poor, with lines delivered badly, and too much post-modern trickiness (the iconography of Christ riding into Jerusalem transmogrifying into Saint Sebastian for instance). And why, and I write here as a grouchy old fart whose hearing is less acute than once it was, does the BBC feel compelled always to overlay speech with music? If a character is dark and threatening the actor should be able to communicate this; we don't need some appropriate melody to drive home the message.

When actors combine respect of verse, that is respect of rhythm, line-endings, and rhyme, with a deep understanding and expression of meaning, and with all of the other 100s of things that actors have to do while playing a part, then the effect is magnificent. THAT is what Shakespeare demands. THAT is what Shakespeare gives us. THAT is the GENIUS of Shakespeare.

And then the last few scenes, as I mentioned above, when I was horrified to see Aumerle cast as Richard's murderer. This does not happen in the play. Richard is murdered by Exton; Aumerle has nothing to do with his death. Why the change? Why does this happen so many times on television? I'd love to see them stick to the plot as written for once. Cutting is one thing, but mixing the motives and actions of characters is another. It mixes up the motivations of the characters and makes Aumerle an entirely different person to the one Shakespeare intended to portray. I can only imagine that the director thought, 'Oh, it'll be more dramatic if Richard's done in by the man he thought was his loyal friend', but I must say I think it's pretty arrogant, and spoiled for me. I do think this sort of thing needs to be flagged up. We don't want the BBC to take the route that ITV has with Agatha Christie, where the adaptations now have almost nothing in common with the original but the title.

Bottom-line: Avoid. Only for Shakespeare dilettantes and completists.

NB: All the pictures taken by me from the film.

2 comentários:

Book Stooge disse...

"If a character is dark and threatening the actor should be able to communicate this; we don't need some appropriate melody to drive home the message."

Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. I've noticed more and more that the music drives the emotion of the movie and the actors just play along. You can almost always tell now when an actor has been trained on the stage, as they will actually "act". They're a dying breed though and the lure and glamour and money of Hollywood is drawing off a lot of potentials :-(

Manuel Antão disse...


When the film or tv object in question is bad, they think: "Let's add some music here to make it more palatable...". One word: "disgusting".