Picture from British Museum.org

L.S.Media Rating: ***

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet , Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hughes, David Morrissey, Clémence Poésy, Isabella Laughland, Daniel Boyd, James Purefoy, Finbar Lynch, Lucian Msamati, Richard Bremmer, Harry Hadden Paton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Samuel Roukin, Tom Goodman-Hill, Adrian Schiller, Peter De Jersey, David Bradley, Simon Trinder, Rhodri Miles.

Shakespeare’s second sequence of history plays mourn a bygone era, where noble kings ruled in an age of chivalry. This B.B.C. adaptation kicks off the Hollow Crown season, and transports audiences back to a time when the King was believed to have absolute power instated in him, a direct agent of God. However, as Shakespeare repeatedly does throughout his plays, this adaptation also explores the man beneath the crown, questioning what it is to be a king.

The authenticity of the setting really allows insight into the world in which Richard operates; quarrels are settled with duels on horseback, bloody battles are fought. The camera doesn’t shy away from the gore, showing rolling heads and spilled blood, especially poignant when Bolingbroke has the heads of his enemies thrown at him as proof of their death. One must ask the difficult question; where the nobility is in ordering others to commit so many brutal murders on the king’s behalf? Doubt is created about the rightfulness of Bolingbroke’s claim to the throne, even though he was wronged by the previous king. As he sits alone, a montage of Richard is shown, realising the guilt that will consume the new king.

Throughout this adaptation, the recurring motif of the crucifix haunts the action, from the beginning where we see a naive Richard frittering away the wealth of the state on frivolous paintings. Later, audiences are confronted with a fallen king, shrouded and holding his arms out as he surrenders his crown. In death, Richard fully resembles the arrow stricken crucifix he watched being painted earlier. Despite Richard’s cold treatment of his dying uncle or his foolish actions in siezing property that is not rightfully his, this adaptation challenges the unsympathetic view of the king that it is so easy to take. As Richard faces Bolingbroke’s army, the camera’s focuses on the beads of sweat on his forehead and his flickering eyes that betray his lack of confidence. The illusion of the crown is transparent at this point, and audiences see a man like any other, fearing his end. Audiences consider the view of Richard as a martyr, wrongfully deposed. Rather than looking forward to a future under a new king, the focus remains on Richard’s dead body in the final shots, mourning what has passed.

A wonderfully thought-provoking adaptation in an authentic setting, challenging audience perceptions of what it is to be a king.

 Simal Patel