Friday, July 29, 2011

Richard III

Laurence Olivier, 1955, 158m

Richard III may be the most colorful of the bard's constellation of rogues. He is the only one physically deformed and who has the central role in the play. Glossing over the historical intricacies of plot, Richard ascends the ladder to the throne by a series of murders of his close relatives, including two young nephews, his wife and a cousin. Moreover, at the outset, he declaims his resolution to chose the path of unbridled evil, as a revenge against nature for his deformed body. Olivier gives a spectacular performance which cannot fail to delight lay viewer and critic alike. From his hawk like nose (is it his own?), his marvelously executed limp,  the crooked monumental posture as he stands, his ominous shadow which trails him like a company logo and the masterful elocution of the lines, it is the work of an actor born to do Shakespeare without apology or inhibition.

This is Shakespeare's first play and he probably didn't want to risk a failure. He treads the safe path to the heart of the audience by providing bloodshed, wickedness, pathos (the killings are portrayed with extended dramatic detail to make them as heart rending as they are gruesome) and romance. The costumes, sets and the portrayal of the concluding battle are all competently done to evoke the era portrayed.

Shakespeare's villains are men driven by intelligence and ambition, single minded worldly risers who have shaken off the shackles of conscience. As such, they are psychologically simple, since once we decide to overlook the niceties of right and wrong, life becomes clear, focused and mechanical as a chess game. Obsessive monologers must be clear thinkers. Whether it is Richard, Iago or Edmund, the evil is played out to (almost) the very end with scarcely a hiccup of remorse. (Only milk liver'd Macbeth sleeps no more, but he wasn't villain enough to start with.) Only under the stare of death does the edifice of evil show signs of crumbling.

This is a drama more entertaining than profound, of Shakespeare's green days, and flawlessly done here by Laurence Olivier.

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