The Hollow Crown: Richard III

Great Performances

The Hollow Crown: Richard III #4011
Sunday, December 25, 08:30 pm on 8.1 Duration: 2:26:46

Description: Richard plots and schemes his way to the throne. His brother, the king and the young princes each present an obstacle. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench and Phoebe Fox.[PBS]

Synopsis: Richard III is a historical play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1592. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of King Richard III of England.[Wikipedia]

I caught this PBS special last night without realizing how long it was, nor how grippingly horrible the plot. I was in the game for the incomparable Judi Dench (“M” on the Bond 007 films, “Jean” on As Time Goes By) as a bitter old matriarch, and Benedict Cumberbatch (the incomparable new PBS Sherlock) as the insanely malevolent, plotting murderer King Richard III. I was not disappointed in the great acting.

We read a number of Shakespeare plays in school, though I don’t think this was one of them, and I was, at best, never a Shakespeare enthusiast. My beef with Shakespearean English is that no student alive today can give a credible recitation that sounds like what might be normally spoken English of any era. The entire PBS cast gave authenticity of dialect a light touch, preserving Shakespeare’s lines while making them sound credible to a modern listener. Cumberbatch was stunning.

As a senior adult in the TV audience, I found the script performance strangely compelling, as the moth to the flame, or as the psychiatrist hearing out a patient who is stark raving mad but who makes perfect sense if you can suspend judgment of his horridly perverted sense of morality.

And I was horrified! I can tell you that it was a riveting two and a half hour performance, and I can recommend you try to catch it if you are into history and feeling up to a test of your psychological endurance.

The laundry list of murders is absolutely appalling, including most of the members of Richard’s own family and entourage. The most despicable was his murder of his two very young nephews, Edward V aged about eight, and The Duke of York, aged about seven. He had them killed in the Tower of London with the utterance “I want the bastards dead. And I want it done right away.” Richard III had previously dispatched their father, Clarence.

The only death actually depicted in the performance is of the villainous Richard III himself, ending a short and horrible reign in a very tumultuous period of English history. I cheered!

As I said, I recommend the performance with my stated reservations. Be prepared to be horrified and mesmerized at the same time, as if staring into the cold red eyes of the striking cobra. I don’t think you will ever forget this fine performance.

I warn you, don’t watch it just before turning into bed for the night.

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