Almeida Theatre’s Richard III

RICHARD III, filmed the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion, not rated, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

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Ralph Fi­ennes smiles, and mur­ders while he smiles, as he as­sumes the twisted frame and warped soul of Shake­speare’s arch vil­lain Richard III, a man who does not let him­self be dis­cour­aged by his low stand­ing on the lad­der of suc­ces­sion to the English throne.

This is the ac­claimed Almeida Theatre pro­duc­tion of the Shake­speare play, which re­cently closed in Lon­don af­ter a run that gained ex­tra im­me­di­acy from the Machi­avel­lian power strug­gles waged in Eng­land over the Brexit cam­paign. “It’s quite rare that you ac­tu­ally are close to a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty,” Fi­ennes ob­served in a re­cent in­ter­view with

The Guardian. “We went into this not know­ing what the ref­er­en­dum re­sult was go­ing to be, so when it was as di­vi­sive as it was and we saw all th­ese po­lit­i­cal fig­ures mak­ing a play for lead­er­ship, Boris John­son, Michael Gove ... the au­di­ence sud­denly, it changed.”

The di­rec­tion by Ru­pert Goold (King Charles III) makes canny use of the Almeida’s com­pact stage. He opens with the 2012 ex­ca­va­tion in a Le­ices­ter park­ing lot of the bones of the Bri­tish monarch who — at least in Shake­speare’s telling — died yelling for a horse at Bos­worth Field in 1485. Haz­mat-suited ar­chae­ol­o­gists un­earth a few bones, then a skull, and fi­nally the S-shaped spine of the de­formed king. A glass floor slides over the ex­ca­vated grave, and Fi­ennes, clad in a dou­ble-breasted jacket, limp­ing with a humped back and bent over a cane, ap­pears, mut­ter­ing about the win­ter of our dis­con­tent.

The per­for­mances are out­stand­ing from top to bot­tom. Fi­ennes’ Richard is malev­o­lent, mis­an­thropic, and star­tlingly mat­ter-of-fact, even as he schemes and as­sas­si­nates and rapes his way through the fam­ily to get his hands on the crown. The women, start­ing with Vanessa Red­grave as a fud­dled but steely Queen Mar­garet, and Ais­lín McGuckin as a fierce Queen El­iz­a­beth, are su­perb, and the qual­ity never slack­ens through Clarence, Buck­ing­ham, Hast­ings, and down to the fresh-faced lit­tle princes in their school uni­forms.

Like so many con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tions of Shake­speare’s his­tor­i­cal plays, this Richard III is set in the present day, with mod­ern dress and cell phones in­form­ing the action. It’s a con­ceit that works rea­son­ably well, and re­in­forces the rel­e­vance to to­day’s head­lines, al­though the de­vice stum­bles a bit when sword­play (where would we be with­out the trusty sword cane?) and suits of ar­mor can’t be avoided.

This pro­duc­tion was filmed in July at the Almeida for world­wide broad­cast à la Na­tional Theatre Live, and that record­ing is what is now com­ing to cine­mas. The pro­gram, with an in­tro­duc­tion and an in­ter­mis­sion, runs well over three hours, but it moves flu­idly and doesn’t lose its grip. — Jonathan Richards

The bit­ter queen and the mur­der­ous king: Vanessa Red­grave and Ralph Fi­ennes

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