Richard III (1995)

Richard III (1995), directed by Richard Loncraine.

This alternative history is an inspired approach to modern-dress Shakespeare: 1930s British Fascism as installed by the warring royal family. The spectacle is mesmerizing: you think, yes, that's just how it happens and that's what it looks like.

The core of this sort of production has to be the actors, their ability to make the old text intelligible and applicable to their story. Everyone here is wonderful at this and they are supported by lovely period sets and clothes.

It is true to Shakespeare's theme: the long descent into national nightmare. In his time the conceit was that the Wars of the Roses were collective punishment for the murder of King Richard II in prison (180 years before the events of this story). Shakespeare wrote four plays beginning with that death, and another four culminating in the death of Richard III. (The earlier history was written later).

This -- battling it out with Hamlet -- is Shakespeare's longest play, so much has to be trimmed. It's his first "good" play, still clunky in some aspects, but his imagination is beginning to run.

The film could have been longer without stressing the viewer. It moves well.

I hadn't noticed before, but Ian McKellen is made up so one side of his face is slack, as if from congenital nerve damage or a stroke.

Using Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. as the Queen and her brother is a nice touch: American outsiders, barely trusted. It almost happened in the 1930s.

Trevor Jones score.

Twilight Time Blu-ray.