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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Unearthing Richard III

Written by Kyle Slagley

Some men are born great, others achieve greatness, and some are buried under the parking garage.

By now I’m sure most of you have heard about the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III under a car park in Leicester, England. Leicester, in case you weren’t sure, is about 100 miles north-northwest of London.

Historically, Richard is known for being the last king in the House of York, and also for being the last King of England to die on the battlefield after scheming and killing his way to the throne.

Most people are familiar with Richard III as the man who said things like “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” and “Now is the winter of our discontent!” For that we thank none other than the great William Shakespeare, whose tragedy has been performed countless times all across the world.

Having read the majority of the Bard’s plays, Richard III is definitely one of my favourites. Richard is one of those characters you love to hate. Whether he was actually as dastardly and despicable as the play makes him out to be may never truly be known, though. Here’s a look at some of the adaptations of Richard III out there.

The Naxos Audiobooks minimalist recording of the entire play is quite possibly the most definitive version out there, starring Kenneth Branagh as Richard. There are very few sound effects except the reading by the actors, making it seem as though the listener is sitting in on a casual read-through of the production. Quite simply, this is THE audiobook version to share with your patrons.

The 1955 Criterion version is widely considered to be THE film version of this play, mainly because it stars the be-all-end-all when it comes to Shakespearian actors, Sir Lawrence Olivier. I’ve seen this film a few times, and can definitely appreciate it as being the quintessential British theatre version. I have to admit my affection for this film only goes so far because in true Olivier style it is grand and magnificent, but I also find it stiff and uptight – particularly during the opening monologue.

The Murders of Richard III is a novel by Elizabeth Peters about an American librarian named Jacqueline Kirby who happens to be in England attending a Richard-themed murder mystery in a large manor house. As you might expect, the play-murders turn real and Kirby must solve the mystery. I’ve not read the book, but if you like the Jacqueline Kirby books, I’m told it’s one of the best in the series.

Sadly, my two favourite film versions of Richard III are unavailable. In 1995, MGM released a modern adaptation of the film starring Sir Ian McKellan as Richard, set in the 1930s. It has an all-star supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr, and Jim Broadbent. Then in 1996, Al Pacino put out a docu-drama called Looking for Richard that includes clips from the play that are filmed in states from black-box rehearsal format to full-on film production. It also shows discussions about the academic elements of the play like character development, motive, and historical influence – all of which fascinate the theatre enthusiasts. If you happen to have either of these films on your shelves already, I invite you to revisit them and share them with your patrons.

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