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Reviewed October 14th, 2001 by Brian White


Richard III isnít the best play that Shakespeare ever wrote, but is interesting enough to warrant the interest paid to this 1995 film production, and the stage production upon which it is based. Ian McKellen, who stars as Richard, mentioned in an interview that depending on where the play was staged, Richard reminds the audience of different people. Because he is pure evil, Richard reminded Saudis of Saddam. Europeans saw Hitler. It was this identification that inspired the film production. Richard III is set in the thirties. Richard wears a Nazi-esque uniform and attends a rally not unlike a Nazi party parade. The good guys wear outfits like you the British soldiers wear on the history channel. The hero dresses like Monty.

I am a huge fan of creative interpretations of Shakespeare. When done well, they make the play more than the sum of its parts. William Shakespeareís Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes is fantastic. Iíve seen similar efforts on the stage that failed in every way. I find this production of Richard difficult. Certainly, itís a great, lush film. However, by suggesting such important recent history in the setting, I think the film betrays the weakness of the play itself. When done in traditional Elizabethan trappings, Richardís wickedness is fantastic. Here, itís unbelievable. I think the idea was inspired, but the direction of the film could have compensated for that pitfall. I believe the more psychologically complex Macbeth would have been more suitable for this film production.

Iíd give it less than a perfect score, but things like Dude, Whereís My Car and Starship Troopers require that I give the Bard a perfect 100 for plot.

The performances are top-notch. Mr. McKellan obviously had enough practice in all of the performances of the stage production, so he conquers the part. You have a cast of fine British stage actors that anchor the production, and you might actually recognize them. You also have Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr. and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The video transfer on the DVD is quite good. The film itself is quite artfully shot, in some really interesting interiors and exteriors. The disc contains both an anamorphic, 2.35:1 transfer, and a pan and scan, 1.33:1 transfer on the flip side. The widescreen print is quite nice. It isnít as crystal clear as some big-budget films, but there is really nothing to complain about with the transfer.

Like the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix enhances the experience of the film, but is not reference quality by any stretch. This mix is appropriate to the film, and nothing more.

For extras, you get the trailer.


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