Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

The Hollow Crown, Part I

I'm happy the BBC is doing Shakespeare again. Last time (back in the 70s) they got it wrong (shooting in the studio like it was soap opera) but this time I think they're doing it right. They've gone for a cinematic look- period costume, real castles, real cathedrals, the great outdoors.

First cavil: the budget isn't always big enough to match the ambition. An army of 15 cuts the mustard on stage or even in a TV studio; on the big screen it  looks foolish. When Richard II returns from Ireland he comes striding out of the surf accompanied by a single bishop and is met by loyal lords who have also left their retinues at home.  That big beach is crying out to be filled. Moral of the story: don't try to do medieval pageantry on a shoestring- unless you're Orson Welles. 

Second cavil: Movies are a director's medium and Shakespearian theatre is all about the actors and words. The cleverer the director tries to be with the camera the more he she distracts us from what really matters.  Why are we looking at Richard's cheek in blurry close-up when we should be listening to what he's saying? Moral of the story: don't aim the camera up the actors' nostrils- unless you're Orson Welles.

If you're Orson Welles feel free to do whatever the hell you like. 

Cavils over. 

The real strength of the enterprise is that we have acting in depth. Ben Wishaw isn't the best Richard I've seen; that would be Mark Rylance (in a stagey performance of gleeful little boyishness that wouldn't wash on film); but he's still a fascinatingly slippery son-of-a-bitch. The thing about Richard is you never know quite where he's coming from. He elides, he slides, he moves from register to register. Just when you could kick him for being such a whiney little prick he'll hit you between the eyes with a shaft of prophecy. Sometimes the Christliness (the white robes, the crucifixion poses) is embarrassing, sometimes (Oh my God) it's for real. Rory Kinnear is decidedly the best Bolingbroke I've seen (to be honest I don't remember the others)- a haunted, humorless man, as sick with self-love (in a very different style) as Richard is and with a head that lies uneasy even before it wears the crown. Wishaw and Kinnear are terrific in the deposition scene. Bolingbroke wants an ordered, face-saving transfer of power; Richard gives him  a master-class in drama-queenery. It is utterly mortifying; mortifying for Richard, mortifying for Bolingbroke, mortifying for the attendant lords who aren't yet entirely sure where their loyalties lie. This was supposed to be Bolingbroke's show and Richard has stolen it. Only the mana of the annointed king prevents a choked up Bolingbroke from swatting him to the ground.

David Mosrrisey's Northumberland has a looming bearishness- a big quiet man, but for fuck's sake don't cross him.  I have seen York played as a silly old duffer; David Suchet makes him  quick and able- a thinking politician who goes where the power is, not because he's a time-server but because power means peace. Patrick Stewart seizes the hour as John of Gaunt and stops the show with his death-bed aria.

Marks out of a hundred? 75. Next week they're going up against the one near-perfect Shakespearian movie- Welles's Chimes At Midnight- with Jeremy Irons as Henry, Tom Hiddleston as Hal, Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff, Julie Waters as Mistress Quickly...

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