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Richard III
Starring Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by Richard Loncraine

Based on a play, which in turn was based on the original play by William Shakespeare. Cranky is no Shakespearean expert, I fully admit it, but it doesn't affect this report, as I never compare what is on screen with the original source material. That being said....

This is the situation. You are Richard, and you want to be king. Unfortunately, you are way out of the loop. There are two young princes in line for a direct succession. Even if they were, eh, not in the picture (if you know what I mean...), you have an older brother who blocks you from the throne. In addition, you are a deformed little man, with a useless, gnarled hand and a hunch in your back. On the other hand, as it were, you are a brilliant military leader, who has just quashed a civil war in your beloved Britain by personally murdering the husband and son of a woman you would gladly do the nasty with (before killing her as well) who had led the opposition. So the army is behind you, but there is still this nasty, age-old problem of succession. And murder is not, as you've previously demonstrated, beneath you.

OK, I think that's about the run of things. You may want to drop a couple of bucks on a Cliff Notes summary, because this presentation of Richard III is a sumptuous visual feast. You won't want to spend your attention attempting to follow the language and intricacies of Shakespeare's plotting, when you can watch 1930s Britain warp into a fascist state, with Black Shirts marching around and many visual references to Mussolini/Hitler type rallies. As you might expect, characters die constantly. Richard engineers the murder of one brother, who in turn kills the other. And then, in no particular order, he and his minions bring a quick end to the prime minister (if I follow it right). Two princes. Richard's wife. The Queen's brother. And then there is another war, with lots of explosions, political dealings and blackmail, and more threats of murder.

Does this Shakespeare guy know what an audience likes or not?

Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth and Robert Downey Jr. as her brother, are the two faces most Americans will recognize. The dialogue is presented as the spoken language that it is. It is mumbled. It is whispered. And spoken and shouted. To my ears, it was difficult -- kind of like asking me to understand rap talk --and though I make no claim to being an expert Shakespearean (last time I'll say it, I promise), the "story" Richard III was not all that difficult to follow. Othello, having fewer characters involved in the plot, is simpler. Richard III is filled with henchmen and secondary characters just waiting to die. In this case the "main" secondary characters appear often, their names are repeated often, and it becomes fairly simple to figure out who is on what side.

Saving the best for last brings us to Ian McKellen as Richard. Richard enjoys his villainy so much (and McKellen relishes this role) that his asides put the audience I sat with into stitches--literally. We giggled as the evil unfurled before us. McKellen's enjoyment of being so evil is palpable. His manipulation of events makes his character do little dances. Really, he does. Little dances. It is great fun.

There is no way any reviewer can fail to point out (I am no exception) that one of Shakespeare's most famous lines, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" is spoken by McKellen from a broken down military jeep, as his kingdom comes crashing down around his ears in a rain of tracer bullets and incendiary bombs. A tip of the hat to director Richard Loncraine.

This has been a great year for Shakespeare on screen. First, Laurence Fishburne as Othello. Now McKellen as Richard III. If you're going to see them both, start with the simpler Othello. Then sit back and enjoy as Loncraine paints the screen with brilliant locations and costumes, and allows McKellen to have the best time of his life as Richard III.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Richard III, he would have paid . . .

$6.00

If he were an avid Shakespeare fan, he suspects that this would have hit close to the perfect eight. (There was that problem with mumbled dialogue . . .)

Click to buy films starring Ian McKellan
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