Tag Archives: Richard III

My Thoughts on: The Hollow Crown ‘Richard III’ (2016)

I’ve said before that Richard III is my favorite Shakespearean play and I’ve done my best to see each major film adaptation of it (thus far I’ve seen three: this one, Olivier’s 1955 version and Ian McKellen’s 1995 version). When I heard that The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses would feature Benedict Cumberbatch as the last Plantagenet king, I knew I could not afford to miss this performance. And let me tell you, Cumberbatch plays the role so well that I feel it is at least equal to Olivier’s performance (and that is saying something!)

Comparing it to the 1955 version, it’s clear right away that there are some major differences. In the earlier version, the role of Queen Margaret (Henry VI’s widow) is eliminated entirely, but in this version she’s one of the major characters and it completely changes the tone of the play, especially in a pivotal scene when Margaret curses Richard, Buckingham, Queen Elizabeth and the queen’s relatives. Sophie Okonedo is brilliant as the aging Margaret, who has by now lost her husband, her status and her only son. And while she sounds like a raving madwoman (and Richard tries to play her off as such), it’s made clear that everyone believes her words, even if they don’t say so.

Speaking of Richard, from the moment Cumberbatch appears on the screen, you cannot look away from him. This version of Richard III does something new, in that for the first time we see Richard shirtless, exposing his twisted hump for all to see. Cumberbatch turns in a masterful performance as the ultimate deceiver, putting on a kind face for most of the court, and only revealing his true self to the audience. Margaret is the only one to see Richard for what he truly is, and by the time the others realize the danger, it’s too late.


Going back to differences in versions, this iteration of Richard III cuts out several soliloquies that I’ve come to enjoy in other versions. Most notably, Clarence’s speech about drowning (right before his murder) is all but eliminated, which is a shame as hearing Clarence describe the feeling of drowning right before he is murdered BY drowning only increases the horror of the situation.

The other scene I must highlight comes towards the end of the play, right before Richard rides into battle against Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII). Richard is drawn into a nightmare where he is brought face to face with the ghosts of everyone he has killed to get to the throne: his nephews, Henry VI, his wife Anne, Buckingham; all of these ghosts mock Richard and bid him “despair and die.” It’s a chilling scene and one that almost brings Richard to his senses, but the villain is unrepentant to the last.

I highly recommend The Hollow Crown: Richard III to anyone who hasn’t seen a Shakespeare play on film before and is curious about starting. It’s a wonderful performance from the entire cast and you will love it. If you have seen this version of Richard III, let me know your thoughts on it in the comments below and have a great day 🙂

See also:

My Thoughts on: The Hollow Crown ‘Richard II’ (2012)

My thoughts on: Richard III (1955)

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My thoughts on: Richard III (1955)


Of all of Laurence Olivier’s Shakespeare films, my absolute favorite remains Richard III (1955), one of the best (if not entirely complete) film renditions of the story. The play, as the title indicates, follows the titular Richard, brother of Edward IV (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) as he rises in power to become Richard III, last king of the Plantagenet dynasty. The cast is full of talent, the principal players are as follows:

  • Richard III: Laurence Olivier
  • Edward IV: Sir Cedric Hardwicke
  • Clarence (brother of Edward and Richard): Sir John Gielgud
  • Duke of Buckingham: Sir Ralph Richardson
  • The Lady Anne (Richard’s wife): Claire Bloom
  • Henry, Earl of Richmond (Henry VII): Stanley Baker

From start to finish, Olivier’s Richard dominates the story. Similar to Iago in Othello, the future king hides his true motives from all but a few (namely the Duke of Buckingham his confidante) and to most of the court appears to be brusque, awkward, but a gentleman regardless. Nothing could be further from the truth: Richard more than anything wants the crown of England, but his brothers Edward and George, the Duke of Clarence (not to mention Edward’s sons) stand in his way. To achieve this goal, Richard resorts to murder, threats, and outright playacting to get what he wants.


Olivier’s acting is so versatile, it’s a delight to watch him at work. When he talks directly to the audience, as in the “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue, he speaks as if he’s talking to a fellow conspirator. When he woos the Lady Anne, he lays the charm on so unbelievably thick that you almost believe he’s sincere…until Anne leaves and Richard reveals that this was all part of the plan. The only time Richard lets his ‘mask’ slip is when young Richard of York, his nephew, taunts him by saying that his uncle Richard should carry him on his humpbacked shoulder. This invokes one of the oldest storytelling tropes: no villain can stand to be mocked. Olivier created this moment from scratch, there’s no precedent for it in previous adaptations. In that moment, he turns and stares at young Richard with an absolute death glare, sending the young prince stumbling backward in fright. Oddly, no one else (except for maybe Buckingham) seems to catch this moment.


Another scene I like comes late in the story when Richard (with Buckingham’s help) has finally convinced the people to have him proclaimed king. As the people leave to prepare for the coronation, Buckingham walks up to congratulate his friend, only to be stopped short as Richard thrusts his hand out, signalling that Buckingham should instead kneel before him. It’s an abrupt moment, one that clearly shows that things are not as they were between the two.

I said at the beginning that this adaptation was not entirely complete and that’s because a lot of material is cut out. This is one of Shakespeare’s longer works, a complete performance would last upward of four hours, so for a film naturally some parts had to be cut out. One of the biggest changes is the removal of Queen Margaret (the widow of Henry VI) from the story. This is huge because Margaret’s ‘curses’ play a crucial role in the story. Also, the roles of the Duchess of York (Richard’s mother) and Queen Elizabeth (Edward IV’s wife) are severely reduced as well (you can see more of their performances in The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses).

If you like Shakespeare on film, you will love Richard III. A fully restored copy can be bought from the Criterion Collection (in fact this was the first Criterion film I ever owned) and is well worth the price. Let me know what you think of Richard III in the comments below and have a great day 🙂

See also:

Film/TV Reviews

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