Since I knew Mr. Pug loved Ian McKellen as Gandalf, I thought I’d go out on a limb and rent Richard III, a favorite play of mine, starring Ian McKellen. Mr. Pug has always detested Shakespeare as unintelligible, irrelevant artsy-fartsy stuff.
Wow, that was one heck of a film. The play had been abridged to shorten it up a bit, but it was still brilliant. Sir Ian did a slyly malicious, charming, completely sociopathic Richard. This film set the action in 1930’s England, and portrayed Richard as a sort of fascist member of the royal family. Other excellent performances included Nigel Bruce as Clarence, Jim Broadbent as Buckingham, and Maggie Smith as the Duchess of York. Very, very good.
Then, last night, we watched a 1978 British made-for-television movie of Macbeth, again starring Sir Ian. Wow, he sure looked different at age 39! In a company of scintillating Royal Shakespeare Company actors, his was the most riveting performance, though it was closely rivalled by Judy Dench’s role as Lady Macbeth.
Mr. Pug loved both movies, and has ceased to ridicule me when I drag out my huge Shakespeare tome for a “light read”. However, he hasn’t gone so far as to try reading the plays himself yet.
I still remember that Richard III. It was one of the first Shakespeare movies I saw (certainly among the first I saw in a theatre), and I still think Sir Ian’s was one of the best performances I’ve seen on film. Glad your husband liked it.
I’m dying to see that version of Macbeth. Is it readily available? I’m a huge fan of both leads.
I saw a PBS all day special one time showing eight different dircetors doing MacBeth: Orson Welles, that really cool and gory British guy, etc. etc. It was strange how one play could be given such completely different treatments as to be unrecognizable.
Try the hubby on Kurosawa’s Ran next (Japanese King Lear, dont’cha know).
Marley23, we rented it from Video Library, a terrific online rental source for obscure, “irrelevant, artsy-fartsy” movies. Also foreign films, classics, documentaries, operas, etc. We’ll be mailing this copy back to them in a couple of days, so should you join up, it will be available soon. If you ever watched the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Nicholas Nickleby, you will recognize several superb actors therefrom in Macbeth, most notably, John Woodbine (Ralph Nickleby) as Banquo.
I just saw Richard III (April 17) onstage with William Hurt in the title role. He was brilliant, as expected, the director made some…odd choices…but most of the cast did extremely weel. The women were also brilliant, with one exception.
We might be thinking of different movies as there’s so many different adaptations but the really gory version of Macbeth was done by Roman Polanski, that Polish guy. This was post-Manson murders and I think he had a few issues to work out.
As much as I love Shakespeare and Sir Ian, I didn’t care for his Richard III. He did a good job in the title role, naturally, but the movie as a whole just didn’t gel for me. Especially the battle scenes, where I couldn’t escape the feeling that WWII was being waged with precisely one tank and one airplane.
The first McKellen role I ever saw was his Chauvelin in the 1982 TV movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, also featuring the incredibly hot Jane Seymour and convincingly foppish Anthony Andrews (who seemed to be in EVERY TV movie during the late 70s/early 80s; I bought used paperback copies of Ivanhoe and Brideshead Revisited printed in the early 80s, and oddly enough, both have Andrews on the cover!) as the title character. McKellen is great in the role of villain. It’s a pretty entertaining film, which is good, because my older sister was so enamored with it that the copy she videotaped back in '82 nearly wore out the VCR she played it so much
I think it’s available on DVD, if you can find it. Unfortunately for you, the DVD version won’t include all the 1982 TV commercials and a rather embarrassing home movie of a 7-year old Banger doing a jig and cracking his cousins’ heads like coconuts a la Moe Howard
Well, a lot of it approaches unintelligible, to be honest. English has changed a lot in 400+ years, and Shakespeare was using a very stylized form of it. Expecting people to enjoy an evening of untranslated, annotation-free Shakespeare is expecting quite a lot.
Perhaps, but the battle scenes in Richard III have always felt sorta anticlimactic to me, anyway. And I can’t help but love the way they worked “My kingdom for a horse!” into the modern setting.
hazel-rah – Shakespeare may have written in archaic and stylized English, but that doesn’t make him unintelligible; it just takes more work to appreciate him. And with the right actors it’s not even that unintelligible…
Oh, hardly. Reading it un-annotated from a book can be a pain, but any half way competent actor can communicate physically what isn’t obvious from the dry text. Hell, pugluvr’s husband got hooked watching Richard III, which is arguably Shakespeare’s most dense and convoluted work. I’ve read it twice and seen it performed at least a half dozen times, and I still wouldn’t trust myself to summarize the plot. Doesn’t stop me from going all goosebumpy whenever I hear “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.” Even if I didn’t get the double meaning of “son” until the third time I heard it.
Shakespeare is still amazingly accesible. English hasn’t changed that much since the Elizabethans (it’s still considered modern English, as opposed to middle or old English), and Bill was writing to the illiterate commoner as much as the cultured knobs. Do you know that there’s been a new film or TV adaptation of a Shakespearian play made every single year since 1936? (Excepting only 1941, 1946, and, bizarrely, 1977) They don’t just make them starring crusty old British stage actors (sorry, Sir Ian, no offence meant), they make them starring Mel Gibson and Leonardo DiCaprio. They put Keanu Reeves in one of them, f’rchrissake! This sort of perpetual popularity and star casting isn’t being maintained by the intelligentsia. You don’t see movies made out of the works of Milton or Kit Marlowe, because those guys, brilliant as they were, simply don’t have the common appeal of Shakespeare. He has real, enduring, popular appeal.
Katisha: Yeah, I did appreciate that scene. His jeep broke down, right? Nice example of how modern interpretations can add subtext that would have been impossible for Shakespeare to have intentionally included.
Well, Milton wasn’t a dramatist (pace Samson Agonistes, a closet drama, and Comus, which is a masque) but as far as Marlowe goes there’s one of Doctor Faustus,, and one of Edward II, though I haven’t seen either so I can’t comment on their quality. Though your point does hold, I suppose, in the main. (Conversely, you especially don’t see movies made out of the works of Ben Jonson – for that matter, it’s hard to find him in bookstores these days.)
And one of the great things about the Loncraine-McKellen Richard III is just how accessible it is to the uninitiated. You can actually find the screenplay at Sir Ian’s official site – it details some of the steps taken to make it that way. A fascinating read…