Sunday, 1 July 2012

Review of BBC's "Richard II"

BBC4's "Richard II" , the first Shakespeare play in its sumptuous new series " The Hollow Crown" was finely acted and exquisitely filmed.  The BBC is back on stunning form with this inspired version of Richard II.  I can barely wait for the next play Henry IV Part I on 7 July at 9pm.

Richard II 's reign was not without achievements. He made Westminster Hall what it is today and he was the patron of Chaucer. However, he naively fell into the hands of evil flatterers and according to Ralph Holinshed was a serial adulterer. His rule ruined this "sceptred isle", in Shakespeare's images, infesting it with weeds. Even his anointed status, as God's deputy could not save him from overthrow.

He was the first English monarch to require people to address him as "Your Majesty" but then he showed unnatural favouritsm to Bagot and Greene, gruesomely beheaded in this BBC version - on a riverbank. What really finished him (politicians beware!) was his undermining of English law by stealing the Earl of Hereford's (his cousin's) inheritance to pay for his wars.  This act might be like our Prime Minister asset-stripping the National Trust to pay for the Olympics. The man dispossessed, Henry Bolingbroke, took his hollow crown and became Henry IV.

The actor playing Richard II, was chosen for his ressemblance to the Christ of Western art. He grew on me the more he sat in effete silk clothes in scenarios clearly inspired by "The Wilton Triptych", his prayer screen.

All interior schemes were shot in medieval churches and heritage buildings. One could watch this production to study medieval costume.

The script was neatly edited, the story clear, the decadent sexuality of Richard cleverly hinted at, with a mix of long scarves, effeminate posing and a pet monkey.  I loved his scenes set on the beach, when he realises that he has been dispossesed of his kingdom.

Richard II was a figure not like Christ - but like Charles Ist  who had highly refined aesthetic sensibilities and as a result, amassed the greatest art collection in Europe.

During the reign of Charles Ist, some of the most famous paintings of the Italian Renaissance filled the corridors of power, at Whitehall Palace.  This love of art and extravagance alienated the people and ended in his execution.

Elizabeth 1st said at one point, just before Essex's rebellion in 1601 "I am Richard II". Nothing could be further from the truth.  Her only extravagance was her clothes. There was purpose in them: to control unruly men through awe.

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