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 🙂
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