Ian McKellen is wicked and witty in equal measures in this powerful adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III
When it comes to film adaptations of Shakespeare, it’s Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet that first come to mind. But 1995’s Richard III should really be counted among them.
Ian McKellen might be better known for playing Gandalf and Magneto in the blockbuster Lord of the Rings and X-Men franchises, but the knighted stage thespian admits he might not have got those parts had it not been for this labour of love, which he wrote based on the successful stage production that he starred in. His screenplay remains rooted in the Bard’s words, but he’s ditched the archaic to make the verse more accessible, and to highlight Shakespeare’s ingenuity.
Bringing a cinematic eye to McKellen’s vision, director Richard Loncraine dresses the tragedy in the uniform of the Third Reich; and this serves to highlight the pure evil at the heart of Richard’s devious agenda that results in his bloody, brief, rise to dictatorship.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas, Robert Downey Jr, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, a young Dominic West, plus lots of future Downton Abbey faces, Richard III gets a timely release on dual format following a re-master from the BFI.
The special extras include a new audio commentary with McKellen and Loncraine, an engrossing 79-minute BFI lecture by McKellen about Shakespeare on stage and screen, and an illustrated booklet with an essay by McKellen. An annotated screenplay is also included as a pdf (on the DVD).