The Remarkably Respectful Song of Bernadette
Debating the 1990s

Bad Gandalf: Ian McKellen's Richard III

Going through my various writings and reviews, it may seem to some that I'm implacably opposed to remakes.  That's not quite true - what I dislike are bad, deconstructionist remakes.  If someone has a different take on the subject, or wants to consider the story from a different perspective, I'm open to it.

The works of William Shakespeare are a great example of things that can be remade over and over again and still be decent entertainment.  They are so compelling, so full of emotion and thought that they have altered the course of the English language.

That's why I decided to get a copy of Ian McKellen's production of Richard III.  I was intrigued to see what he would do with such a gloriously outrageous role.  Indeed, Richard is so notorious that Monty Python did a sketch featuring a psych ward of patients who lost themselves in the role.

It's not only expansive, but villainous, and any actor will tell you that villains are always more fun to play than heroes.

So in addition to watching Sir Ian chew on scenery, I was also intrigued by the setting, which was the 1930s.  I'm fascinated by that period, and the combination of political instability as well as the Abdication Crisis in England makes it a great choice.

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  It fully met my aesthetic and dramatic expectations.  I particularly liked the fact that Richard's weapon of choice was a Mauser C96 "Broomhandle."  Yes, it's a very sinister looking weapon, perfect for a villain, but it was also famously the weapon of choice for Winston Churchill.  There are lots of nice touches like that.

In addition to the classic hunchback, McKellen's Richard also has a withered left arm, akin to Wilhelm II, which remains (mostly) tucked into a pocket.  What this does is force all sorts of gyrations to smoke a cigarette, sign papers, etc.  This in turn allows him more opportunities to express his character's traits.  It's great fun to watch.

The soundtrack is great as well, and the choice of using Americans to play the Woodvilles was a nice touch.

No, the biggest problem was the sound itself, which was all over the place.  The transition from stage to film means that one can whisper, sigh and mutter while remaining audible.  Well, sometimes.  Whoever did the sound mix on this should never work again, because I had to constantly dial it up and then race it back down again.  Admittedly, my hearing is not what it was, but I can usually find a satisfactory volume and leave it for the duration of the film.  Not here.

And that's a big deal because it's SHAKESPEARE.  The lines are super-important.  I'll probably watch it again at some point, and try to find a happy midpoint, because it is an enjoyable film, and some movies improve with the watching.  I think this is one of them.


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