<Review by: Daylynn DeSouza>


Directed by Richard Loncraine. Starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bill Paterson, John Wood, Jim Carter, Dominic West

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes


I recently had the honour and privilege to attend a screening of Richard III that was organised by the British Film Institute (BFI), The British Council and the Mumbai Association of Moving Images as part of the BFI’s ‘Shakespeare Lives on Film’, a global programme launched by the British Council and Great Britain’s campaign to celebrate Shakespeare’s works and his influence on culture, education and society to mark the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Let me begin by talking about Shakespeare. A lot of people tend to shy away from Shakespeare and his works for fear of not being able to understand them, due to the language. Let me just say that those fears are unnecessary and need not come into play when it comes to a movie like Richard III or any of Shakespeare’s works for that matter because you quite quickly adapt and get used to the language.


I might point out to you that like most of Shakespeare’s works, Richard III is an alternative tale, a ‘What If?’ scenario. It is a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by the same name. And, 21 years after its creation it still holds up. Which is a marvellous feat. The screenplay was written by Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine and is an abridged brilliant piece of work that is set in an alternative fascist England. We follow the many misdeeds of Richard in his rise to power and his ultimate demise. While I won’t ruin the plot for those of you unfamiliar with this story I will however point out the things that the unfamiliar may not be expecting to see from a Shakespearean play (or in this case, a movie.)

First off, comedy: there are a few moments in the film and the play that will genuinely have you laugh out loud. I say ‘few’ because this is a drama after all and there can’t be too much levity in it. There are even a number of Fourth Wall breaks, where the protagonist of the film, Richard, often talks to the audience and does successfully charm us into rooting for him and even sympathising with him despite all the awful things he’s done and the people he’s murdered. So much so that when his mother, the Duchess of York (played by Maggie Smith), curses him and the day he was born you feel a swell of pity for him. Even though you know that he’s just had his nephews murdered.


Richard is an absolute monster of a human being and you know you shouldn’t feel any pity or sympathy for him, but he is so charming that you inevitably do. You don’t want him to succeed in his plans but you also don’t want him to end. And, that is something that you just don’t get in most films these days.

The acting in the movie is unquestionably amazing.  It has to be with a cast as star studded as this. Just off the top of my head you have Sir Ian McKellen as Richard III, Dame Maggie Smith as the Duchess of York, Robert Downey Jr. as Lord Rivers. Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, Jim Broadbent as the Duke of Buckingham (Richard’s accomplice) and Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth. Everybody just does such a wonderful job that you simply believe what you’re watching is a stylised documentary. It’s more immersive than any gimmicky 3D movie out there today. You almost don’t want the movie to end and you wish it would go on a bit longer. You’re left wanting more.


There’s just so much to love about this movie and nothing to dislike. If you had to ask me to point out one flaw in this movie it would have to be some of the special effects used at the very end that involve fire, that aren’t all that amazing. But again, that’s going by today’s standards and this is a movie that was made 21 years ago.

I cannot recommend this movie enough to you, and if you’re lucky you should be able to attend a screening of it as the BFI and British Council will be having screenings of it all around India. Just this past weekend, on the 4th of June, there was a screening at the British Council in Ahmadabad, and there will be more to follow in the coming weeks and months around India. For more details you can visit the BFI or British Council websites. And, if you can’t make it to screening, buy yourself a DVD.

Check out the British Council website for more details here: Ian McKellen in India: Shakespeare on Film series



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