Richard, Your Sinister Host
In five days, the final season of PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey finally hits North America’s airwaves. The lives and loves of British aristocrats of the entitled class – their extravagances, rivalries, jealousies and betrayals – and the alternately charitable and detrimental effects of upper-crust behavior on lower-rung common folk always find appreciative audiences. If the wait for Sunday is too great, for your consideration why not sample some soigné Shakespeare, impeccably acted by an amazing Blighty ensemble with a couple of American interlopers thrown in for good measure. Opening in theatres 20 years ago today, Richard III (1995), directed by Richard Loncraine (The Gathering Storm, Wimbledon), imagines a 1930s England gone fascist and a slightly malformed but mightily malicious Richard in the person of Ian McKellen, who toured worldwide in Richard Eyre’s National Theatre stage production as this devilish, mustached dandy who sinuously charms one minute and murders his way through the royal ranks to the throne the next. The pedigreed ensemble includes Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, John Wood, Adrian Dunbar, Edward Hardwicke, Bill Paterson, Dominic West and Downton’s own Jim Carter and Maggie Smith, who as Richard’s flinty mother curses the day she gave birth to him in much blunter but perhaps less witty terms than the Dowager Countess of Grantham would utter. As Stephen Holden summed it up in The New York Times: “Money, power, glamour, titled aristocrats, kinky sex, drugs and a smiling cobra for a villain: this Richard III offers action-adventure in Masterpiece Theater trappings. Its welcoming title character and sinister host, Mr. McKellen, plays a black-hearted Alastair Cooke daring us to join him in a party game of murder for power. Who could resist?” With a concept this audacious and a cast this grand, resistance just may be futile to this gripping film that in its wake leaves a great many dead bodies and a great many other images that spellbind on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.