The play on TV review: BBC's Richard II with Ben Whishaw
This was a preview screening at BAFTA and I wanted to get a few thoughts down while it's fresh - notes from post screening Q&A with Ben Whishaw (Richard), Rory Kinnear (Bolingbroke), Rupert Goold (director) and Pippa Harris (producer) will follow on tomorrow (and here they are).
First of the tetralogy which starts with Richard II then Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V which will be broadcast on BBC 2 in the summer - think Richard is scheduled for July.
Done in traditional dress and shot entirely location so has an earthy, natural, visceral feel to it.
Ben's Richard is effete and delicate, not quite as petulant or spoilt as I thought he might play it, more an indulged poet. There are homoerotic hints in the way he touches a painting of a semi naked St Sebastian, his body language around his favourites and the way he caresses Bolingbroke but it isn't overblown.
Richard also has a pet monkey which works as a great device for distracting the King at important moments (more on the monkey and why it's in there in the Q&A).
Religious metaphors are stamped throughout with the painting of St Sebastian being painted for Richard in early scene. It is an image the replicated later in the story. Richard also appears at Flint Castle flanked by images of angels.
He's dressed throughout almost entirely in white with some gold and yellow, gradually stripped of his fine clothes as he edges closer to his downfall and finally dressed in a loin cloth. Wasn't sure about the cave-like setting of the prison or the loin cloth - felt like it was taking the religious metaphor a bit too far, especially as he's still Royalty and supposed to be in the Tower. Or maybe I was just sitting there thinking, he must be freezing!
Goold certainly makes the most of the setting, isolating Richard with just three others on a vast empty beach when he returns to England, beautifully emphasising the weakness and delicacy of his position and power. It also makes it easier for Whishaw to lose his serene composure as he stumbles through the sea in his long gowns.
Rory Kinnear's Bolingbroke is strong but gentler than others portrayals, he seems visibly nervous about what he is doing - and shocked at times - as if he is being coerced into more than the return of his lands. He nonetheless succeeds in being a commanding presence, an essential ingredient in understanding how he can attract enough support to so easily depose a king.
Patrick Steward and David Suchet are naturally superb as Gaunt and York adding a regal weight as acting royalty should.
Overall it is a stunning production although I do think some of the cinematography feels a little forced at times - 'we are doing it for the telly therefore we can and will' or maybe it's the editing? Just felt a little bit too noticeable at times.
The play has been hacked back (think Goold says there is about third left!) and what you are left with is its core without feeling like any meaning has been lost. It also means that the actors get to take their time over the words which, incidently, are delivered with such great clarity you forget it is 16th century dialogue.
It is an effecting and interesting take on the play and I can't wait to see it again. Mr Whishaw certainly didn't disappoint - yes he made me cry - in a role that I've wanted him to take on for a while.
There was an official photographer at the Q&A so will link to the pictures as and when they appear online.
PS Have to mention Harry Haddon-Paton's wig, he plays Green, and it just looks wrong, almost comic, I kept expecting him to crack a joke.