Sir Laurence Olivier's Richard III versus Ian McKellan's Richard III

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Sir Laurence Olivier's Richard III versus Ian McKellan's Richard III INTRODUCTION It seems that modern Hollywood filmmakers are as much in love with Shakespeare's plays as were the 16th century audiences who first enjoyed them. Recent updates of Hamlet (1996) and Romeo and Juliet (1996), both highly successful movies, bear this out, as well as the two best film versions of Richard III; Sir Laurence Olivier's 1954 "period piece", and Ian McKellan's more modern interpretation (1995). In McKellan's Richard III, we see Britain in the late 1930s, at the end of a savage civil war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. This version works for a number of reasons: 1) it is made for a modern audience; 2) the social and…show more content…
It is done in the modern style, with lots of action and movement, primarily using existing buildings as sets, instead of rebuilding them on soundstages. Every scene is alive with movement and detail, a quality that is sadly lacking in Olivier's version. The setting is Britain, but a Britain very much of the late 1930s. This much can be seen at once. Richard's opening soliloquy is broken in half; the first half is spoken into a microphone before a crowd of merry-makers at King Edward IV's victory celebration. However, just as Richard reaches "Grim-visag'd war has smoothed his wrinkled brow", and the soliloquy becomes more a description of Richard's plans, we cut away to Richard, alone, in the men's room--taking a piss. As Richard relieves himself, he continues his soliloquy. Clearly, the movie is not above using anything--including Richard's bathroom habits--to move the story along. A perfect fit for today's audiences. 2. Background When Olivier made Richard III, he had to work within the bounds of the 1950s, which makes it difficult for modern audiences (myself included, I'm ashamed to say) to stick with the movie until the end. The things that get audiences going nowadays are basically sex and violence (hopefully with a decent story keeping them together). Olivier's version has very little of the former, and I think that he wouldn't have put them in even if he could. I have seen several of his movies, and he

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