A Summary of Richard III The movie Richard III, released by MGM/United Artists Pictures in 1995, features such noted actors as Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr. , Kristin Scott Thomas, and Maggie Smith. The movie, based on William Shakespeare's frequently performed play, is about King Richard III, one of the last medieval English kings. The film takes place during the 1930 s in a fascist, almost "nazi like" England. The film opens with Richard and his troops storming a 1930 s building in Tewkesbury. After breaking through a brick wall by tank, Richard kills Henry VI and his son Edward, in an attempt to secure the throne for his own brother, Edward IV.
Richard, a deformed hunchback with a withered and limp left arm, displays little emotion in executing the men. Richard concocts a plan to seduce and marry, Anne, the wife of Edward, the man he executed at Tewkesbury. Richard meets Anne at the morgue where her husband lies dead and convinces her that he killed Edward because of his love of her. Incredibly, Richard is successful in getting her to marry him. As the film progresses, the viewer is introduced to Richard's brother, Edward IV, who has assumed the throne of England. Edward is married to Queen Elizabeth, portrayed by Annette Bening.
Queen Elizabeth's brother Earl Rivers, portrayed by Robert Downy, Jr. has several confrontational outbursts with Richard. Richard concocts a plan to take over the throne himself and to eliminate those, including Earl Rivers, who could stand in his way. Richard plants suggestions to convince King Edward that their brother Clarence is plotting against him.
Edward responds initially in anger, ordering Clarence to be confined in the Tower. Richard then secretly orders the murder of his older brother Clarence and allows a gravely ill Edward to believe the execution was done on his own order. The pain and guilt that Edward experiences contributes to his death within a matter of days. Edward's death leaves the throne vacant for his son, the under-age Prince of Wales. Richard is pronounced the Lord Protector of the Prince and has the young prince locked up in a tower with his younger brother.
To avert involvement from the Queen's family, Richard orders the execution of Earl Rivers, Queen Elizabeth's brother. To prevent her sons from being crowned King, Richard creates a plan to have Elizabeth and Edward's marriage declared illegal and their children declared illegitimate and unable to assume the throne. Throughout the film, Richard ruthlessly manipulates those around him to achieve his dream of the throne. He orders the murder of any that stand in his way, including family members and noblemen. After Richard has the Prime Minister eliminated, he finally secures the title he has worked for and is crowned King of England. Even after he is made King, Richard orders the death of Queens Elizabeth's sons, the young princes he had locked away.
Additionally, Richard spreads rumors that his wife, Anne, is gravely ill. Richard then orders her murder to enable him to marry Queen Elizabeth's daughter. Henry Tudor of Richmond begins to build an army to confront and dispose Richard. Many of Richard's former supporters begin to fear him and now side with Richmond. Even Richard's own mother curses him and sides against him. Queen Elizabeth's daughter chooses to marry Henry Richmond over King Richard.
Richard realizes he has lost or has killed most of his supporters and he is forced to face his enemies' troops in battle. The film concludes with a bloody war between the two sides. With tanks lunging forward and the screams of automatic weapons, Henry Richmond corners King Richard in shell blasted building frame. Instead of being defeated by Richmond, King Richard chooses to throw himself into the hell-fire inferno burning below. When considering the accuracy of the film, the viewer has to realize there are two different bases for comparison. There is the actual historical figure of King Richard who lived from 1452 until 1485 and was one of the last medieval English Kings.
There is also the literary King Richard, the sinister tyrant from the Shakespearean play. The film differs from both versions of King Richard in varying degrees. For the most part the film follows the story line of the Shakespearean play with primarily surface changes. The film-setting takes place in the 1930's in a "nazi-like" version of England. The characters drive tanks and automobiles instead of horses and fire semi-automatic weapons as opposed to medieval weapons. While the characters converse in the same blank verse dialog of the play, the setting, locale, and time obviously differ from those featured in the Shakespearean work.
The battlefield where the final war is waged between Henry Tudor of Richmond and King Richard in the film is an industrialized, shell blasted factory area. Richard's mode of transportation is a military jeep, which fails mechanically. In response to being stranded by the automobile, Richard utters the famous line "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" In the play, the battle, also known as the War of the Roses, occurred at Bosworth Field in medieval England. Richard utters the famous line when he is literally thrown from his horse and forced to fight Henry Tudor of Richmond on foot.
In the film, Richards attempts to withhold victory from Richmond by throwing himself into the inferno. In the play, Henry of Richmond defeats Richard on the battlefield. Richmond is crowned King Henry VII and the start of the Tudor reign begins. In an attempt to sustain the viewer's interest, the film moves extremely quickly. Modern filmmakers seem compelled to include sex, drugs or violence to attract viewers and this film is no different.
In the Shakespearean play Queen Elizabeth's bother, Rivers is imprisoned and executed in the tower after being arrested. In the film version of Richard III, Rivers is murdered while in bed with a mistress. He is brutally stabbed from the underneath of his bed, the knife blade entering through his back and protruding out of his stomach. Other differences resulting from the period change in the film include Queen Anne's progressing alcohol and drug addiction. As she becomes more addicted in the film, she resorts to injecting drugs intravenously in her legs. Just as the director of the film version of King Richard has taken artistic liberties to appeal to the modern viewer, many historians believe that Shakespeare's Richard III has been dramatized for artistic viewing purposes and possibly due to misinformation.
Shakespeare was a playwright and was responsible for producing plays that would entice and entertain the audience. Historians have debated King Richard for years. Many believe that Richard was not the evil deformed hunchback portrayed in Shakespeare's play. Many believe that misinformation regarding Richard was conveyed by Tudor writers in an attempt to ruin his reputation. The Tudors occupied the throne of England after Richard from 1485 to 1603. Many historians indicate that Richard was a progressive ruler who promoted books and education and started the system of bail and the impartial jury system.
Richard was considered an accomplished fighter and horseback rider and many historians' present evidence that Richard was neither crippled or a grossly deformed hunchback. Those historians who aren't strong proponents of Richard still believe that at best he was incompetent leader that was caught in a complex situation beyond his control, not the evil and shrewd character portrayed in the play. Historians argue that there is no real evidence to support the fact that Richard killed or ordered the death of so many in his family. Just as the film version of Richard III dramatizes events to make it more appealing to modern viewers, many believe Shakespeare created a story partially based on fictionalized events to create a memorable and entertaining work.
It would appear there are two distinct and different King Richards, the historical one and the literary one. By portraying Richard in a fascist 1930 setting, the directors of the film were better able to create the needed dramatic and evil literary character than the one portrayed by the historical Richard. A Critique of Richard III The film Richard III, opens with the same dramatic action that occurs during the entire length of the film. A tank plows through the brick walls of King Henry VI's home in Tewkesbury. Richard, a deformed hunchback with a withered and limp left arm, emerges from behind the tank and executes King Henry and his son Edward.
Richard displays little emotion or remorse. The film remains entertaining and suspenseful during its entire length. In fact, the high energy level of action actually detracts from several scenes that are more dependent on the complex character interaction found in Shakespeare's works. Shakespearean work takes some focus and concentration by the viewer and at times the over-stimulation of the vivid scenes detracts from the intended message. Often the scenes feel choppy and hurried to the viewer. Re staging the story in a 1930 "nazi-like" England at times also proves distracting to the viewer, yet it does accomplish what is believed to be the director's desired effect.
This period was one of the most depraved and vile times in the world's history - what better period to associate a truly evil King and ruler. Ian McKellen is a superb actor and does an excellent job portraying Richard. He is able to express the raw ambition associated with Richard with simple facial expression. He is a truly skilled artist. In addition, the performance of Kristin Scott Thomas deserves note. She is able to transform seamlessly from the beautiful socialite to the haggard and drawn drug junkie.
I did not feel the same level of emotion from the performances of Annette Bening or Robert Downey, Jr. The contemporary American actors aren't able to convey the same depth of emotion and seem out of place in the English setting. The costumes and sets were appropriate for the 1930 time period of the film, though obviously not in context with the historical setting in the late 1400's. Most backgrounds were dull and gray with almost startling displays of color during the film, especially red. The vivid red banners hanging in the background during Richard's coronation are eerily reminiscent of scenes from German Nazi films during Hitler's reign. The conclusion when Richard flings himself into the burning wreckage of the factories is unexpected but extremely effective.
Perhaps to the viewer such a torrid death is more befitting and appears to be more damming for Richard. But the revised ending can be perceived as affording Richard one final victory over "good" by allowing him to choose his own death rather than the defeat he faced at the hands of Henry of Richmond as depicted in the play. Bibliography Robert C. Lamm. The Humanities in Western Culture. 1 vol.
, 10 th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996 Richard III. Dir. Richard Loncraine.
With Ian Mckellen, Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr. , Kristin Scott Thomas, and Maggie Smith. By MGM/United Artists Pictures, 1995. William Shakespeare.
The Tragedy of King Richard III Edited by John Jowett, University of Birmingham Ross, Charles D. Richard III, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981 Cheetham, Anthony. The Life and Times of Richard III, (1972, reprinted 1992).