When trying to decide on the historical figure to feature in this segment of Caught on Tape I couldn’t help but be drawn in by all of the talk about the discovery of the remains of King Richard III of England. With the discovery that he did indeed of a spinal deformity it brings to mind the Shakespeare portrayal, which is probably the most widespread depiction. Accordingly, the majority of films take on the Shakespeare angle. I tried to cover a wide range of Richard dramas from the very early 1900’s through the 1990’s to see if Richard is portrayed differently throughout time.
Richard III (1912)
Shakespeare's tragedy of the hump-backed Duke of Gloucester, who rises to the throne of England by chicanery, treachery, and brilliance, only to find that his own methods have prepared the groundwork for his downfall.
Did you know that this is considered the oldest surviving American feature-length film? It was believed to be lost until the mid-1990s when a movie projectionist turned in a copy to the American Film Institute and they were able to preserve the film. This film is based on the Shakespeare play and stars Frederick Ward as Richard III. The clip I have for you below is from the scene where Richard woos Anne – and a scene that actually portrays Richard rather favorably. It is a silent film so the gesticulations are overacted and you can’t be quite sure what they are discussing, but Richard obviously wins her over in the end of the scene. From the reviews I have read – this film is not for those who are not big movie buffs – it was breaking ground for its time but apparently rather unwatchable today.
Tower of London (1939)
In the 15th century Richard Duke of Gloucester, aided by his club-footed executioner Mord, eliminates those ahead of him in succession to the throne, then occupied by his brother King Edward IV of England. As each murder is accomplished he takes particular delight in removing small figurines, each resembling one of the successors, from a throne-room dollhouse, until he alone remains. After the death of Edward he becomes Richard III, King of England, and need only defeat the exiled Henry Tudor to retain power.
Tower of London features Basil Rathbone as Richard III and Boris Karloff as his accomplice Mord. Vincent Price has a role as Richard’s brother, George. The film is best described as a quasi-historical horror film (as I would expect from the involvement of Karloff). The film was later remade in 1962 with Vincent Price in the lead role and with a stronger emphasis on the horror aspect. Tower of London is not based on Shakespeare. None of the video clips I could find of this movie had a great focus on Richard; however this one features the death of George and is actually rather interesting.
Richard III (1955)
Laurence Olivier stars as England's storied ruling monarch in one of Shakespeare's greatest historical drama. In a Machiavellian masterstroke, Richard III plays relatives against each other and ascends to the throne amid the War of the Roses. But things start to go bad when he murders two young princes he'd imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London. Cedric Hardwicke, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson co-star.
Laurence Olivier made three Shakespearian historical films, and this one was considered at the time of its release the lesser of the three, it has however stood the test of time and is now considered the film that has most popularized Shakespeare. Olivier’s performance as Richard was nominated for an Academy Award however he did not win it. His performance is ranked 19th in Premiere magazines 100 Greatest Performances. I don’t know that I would agree with that after watching the death scene clip I have below – now I haven’t seen the whole film, but the death scene was kind of cheesy. And the setting of the Battle looks nothing like what I would imagine it would have looked like. As one Youtube commenter said, “It looks more like the Battle of Botswana than the Battle of Bosworth Field”.
Richard III (1995)
Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeare's classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule. Richard plots against his brother, Edward (John Wood), in his quest to usurp the throne, and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his goal. The film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design.
First I want to point out that this movie has quite the cast: Ian McKellen as Richard, Annette Bening as Elizabeth Woodville, Robert Downey Jr as Lord Rivers, Nigel Hawthorne as George, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, and Maggie Smith as the Duchess of York. This is an adaptation of the Shakespeare play but brings it into a more modern time period, the 1930s (it is similar to how the 2009 adaptation of Hamlet was modernized starring Patrick Stewart). The film has received very positive reviews for its uniqueness and adaptation of the classic although I’m having a hard time connecting to it because it is so far gone from the history. The scene I included below is the death scene – compare it with the above Olivier death scene.
If I were to choose to watch any of the above in their entirety, I would probably choose the 1955 and 1995 versions to compare and to see a classic vs. a modern interpretation. These are the only 2 of the films you can get through Netflix. So have you seen any of the above films? What did you think of them? Any that you want to see but haven’t? Did I miss any good ones?
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