Wednesday, November 23, 2016

TV Review: The Hollow Crown: Richard III (2016)

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses: Richard III (2016) directed by Dominic Cooke based on Shakespeare's plays

For the previous Hollow Crown series, see my reviews of Richard IIHenry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. For the previous episodes in the Wars of the Roses series, see Henry VI Part 1 and Part 2.

Richard III (Benedict Cumberbatch) rises to and falls from power in this adaptation of Shakespeare's popular play. Richard is a man of cunning and ambition with no apparent sense of goodness in him at all. He manipulates his family members and the nobility with horrifying ease and effectiveness, always redirected responsibility and guilt on others. He acknowledges his guilt to viewers (he makes many asides to the camera to clarify what he's really up to) and has no remorse. In spite of killing two brothers, two nephews, a wife, and a host of other nobles and relatives, he gets his comeuppance at the end.

The production is very elaborate. Scenes are filmed in historic locations and battles occur in towns and fields, giving the movie a very cinematic feel. Richard starts the movie with an aside to the camera (the "Now is the winter of our discontent..." speech) so his talking to the camera seems natural, though the previous episodes haven't had anyone speak directly to the camera since the Chorus actually appears at the end of Henry V. Since the story is an intimate portrayal of Richard, the asides work well.

On the other hand, just because it's intimate doesn't mean it's accurate. Critics of the play like to rail against it as Tudor propaganda (Henry VII beats Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and winds up with the crown) and character assassination. Setting those (legitimate) concerns aside, this story gives a compelling picture of the most Machiavellian man ever. Dramatically it is very exciting and Cumberbatch gives a great performance, sliding around from fake meekness and icy calculation to moral outrage and anger with amazing ease. It's a great performance of Shakespeare's take on Richard III.

This is well worth watching and a fine end to the series.

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