Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Dystopia of Richard III

An evening screening of Richard Eyre's film version of Richard III as part of the Early Modern Drama module. It's brilliant proving, if proof be needed, that Shakespeare's understanding of the human condition transcends time and space and helps us unveil the universal truths that allow us to unite under the broad term of humanity.

The War of the Roses were only three generations away from Shakespeare. Only eighty years separate the real king's death from Shakespeare's own birth. If not a living memory then there would certainly have been stories, songs and myths from the wreckage of that time in the same way that our generation still have a cultural sense of the trenches, the Somme and Passchendaele.

Eyre sets his production in the interwar years and imagines what would have happened in that long weekend had Britain itself been conned into National Socialism. Ian MacKellan superbly judges Richard as a charming Mosesly-esque figure, eyes on the main chance, driven by a desire for adulation and power. Jim Carter plays Prime Minister Hastings as a bluff squire in the Stanley Baldwin mould. Maggie Smith plays Richard's mother, the Duchess of York as Mary of Teck and Annette Benning's American Queen on the make, Elizabeth offers all too clear parallels to Mrs Simpson. The growing importance of the RAF is also given credence through Edward Hardwicke's Stanley, who heads up this service and effectively brings Richard's reign to an end by switching sides before the Battle of Bosworth and bombing the King's camp into the ground. It's a counter factual history that makes complete sense.

The film enjoys a certain amount of witty and dystopic cinematic references beginning with a cruelly shattered homage to The Dambusters. The Lady Anne scene is straight out of Brief Encounter and Dominic West's wholesome Richmond gives a great audition to be the first James Bond.

It's a masterclass in concept direction. The idea that old stories can be used to help us understand new truths. Linking the past with our modern sense of ourselves.


No comments: