The play on TV review: BBC's Richard II with Ben Whishaw
Brimstone and Treacle - still controversial 36 years later?

BBC Richard II: Rupert Goold talks working with Ben Whishaw and Michael Jackson influences

OK so here's the Q&A from last night's preview screening of Richard II at BAFTA as promised.

Must confess that I hadn't been expecting Mr Whishaw to show up. I get the distinct impression that the publicity side of the acting profession isn't his favourite bit of the job.  He was a no show at The Hour preview screening. The only other time I've seen him at a Q&A (after a performance of Cock at the Royal Court) he sat looking into his lap, twirling his hair around his finger, shifting uncomfortably in his seat anytime a question came his way.

The confirmation that he was indeed at BAFTA came when I overheard a conversation: 'Is Ben in or has he run away?' 

He was joining Rupert Goold (director), Pippa Harris (producer) and Rory Kinnear who plays Bolingbroke on the panel. Kinnear was overheard to say to press on his way in that he hadn't seen the finished product yet. Whether Ben had or not is unclear but from a comment he made in the Q&A he didn't sit through it this time.

Anyway on to the Q&A itself which was conducted by bumbling Telegraph journalist. Here are what I think were the most interesting bits:

How it came about:

Rupert Goold - been thinking of doing RII on stage but struggling with how to do it. It's never been filmed before (actually it has, thanks @weez and @3rdspearcarrier, with Derek Jacobi in title role, think I watched it as an A-level student). Film is more about character theatre about dialogue. Not a huge amount happens compared to other plays and appealed as a film project in developing the characters.

Wanted to do a Michael Jackson themed RII and the monkey (King Richard has a pet monkey) is a tribute to that.

Never done Shakespeare in a historical setting but so much about kingship, crowns and chivalry that decided it would be best.

Shakespeare on screen vs on stage - different approach?

RG: Wanted to make the language clear and available and find a performance style that works on screen. He said there are a lot of big name actors like Patrick Stewart and David Suchet who have a lot of screen experience but also a lot of stage experience. And that is mirrored in the younger generation of actors like Ben and Rory who have also done a lot of both. 'They can do verse but with an understanding of acting for the screen'.

Ben Whishaw: It is different in craft as it's much more about subtext, that can be explored much more on film than on stage. The subtext is present more.

Goold on working with Ben:

There are lots of different takes on Richard and Ben was generous and we had lots of different takes to work with in the edit. His performance was multi-faceted and he gave lots of different versions. Goold started talking about the deposition scene as an example but then got side tracked onto the subject of shooting on location - nothing was shot in a studio.

There are homoerotic undertones...

BW It's not really a play about a gay king, that's part of it. It is more that he represents something different to Bolingbroke, he has different characteristics, has other ways of being in the world, he's more about poetry, beauty, nature and spirituality.

Rory Kinnear: Richard is released from responsibility of being a king, a position that he has been in for a long while and grown up with. Bolingbroke has the responsibility placed on his shoulders and possibly would have behaved the same way as Richard had he followed the same path. Bolingbroke is press-ganged into going for the crown.

RG Richard II is all about anti climax, couldn't be more British in that sense, there is a joust that nearly happens and siege that nearly happens. The film Thin Red Line was more of a influence than other Shakespeare films. It's a political thriller with poetical sensibilities.

What was cut from the original text?

RG We cut a huge amount as wanted it to have a cinematic pace. In the theatre the text is more quickly spoken, on screen what works better is if people think and speak slower. Cut a lot of the chivalric and heraldic content, particularly around the joust. 

Discussed at length about the York scenes at the end and came close to cutting them completely but decided they were a useful device in showing, from Bolingbroke's point of view, the way people behave when he puts the crown on.


Why kill Richard with cross bows at the end?

RG At that time in medieval history eroticism and mortality were being explored - St Sebastian images were popular - and Richard explores that from the top and obliquely at the end (Richard is having a portrait of St Sebastian painted at the beginning of the play and seems taken by the wounds made by the arrows. Richard is killed by cross bows  at the end - a special effects nightmare apparently - while wearing only a loin cloth and then later seen in the coffin in an almost identical pose to St Sebastian.)

@_faeriequeen's question was whether it was more fun than it looked filming on location

RK In Pembrokeshire we were lucky, it only rained 50% of the time. He then went on to comment that he was disappointed to see that the scene where he walks into the sea to his boat was cut just as his feet touched the water. By the laughs from the panel I'm guessing he had to walk a lot further into the cold sea on the day.

A woman audience member asked whether they had seen the Donmar's Richard II and were influenced by it.

RG pointed out that filming finished before rehearsals even started at the Donmar and by then he was editing so the last thing he wanted to see. Ben said he'd gone to see it and thought Eddie Redmayne was very good as Richard and a very different Richard.

At one point Ben's age came up the Telegraph journo implying he was young to play Richard but then Ben pointed out that Richard was only 32 and that was pretty much how old he is. Goold said that older actors playing Richard is a vanity thing in the same way they all play Hamlet.

I wrote up a review of the production itself yesterday which you can find here.