Introduction Part 2
The real Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was crowned King of England in 1483, when he was 31 years old - that much is certain. The truth about his personality and the circumstances in which he took over the throne continue to be a puzzle to this day.
During the civil wars that divided the country in the middle of the fifteenth century, Richard supported his elder brother Edward's claim to the crown. He remained loyal throughout the reign of the victorious King Edward IV. On Edward's death, his thirteen-year- old son and heir was named King Edward V, with Uncle Richard put in charge of running the country as Lord Protector. Yet within two months, the young king, along with his nine-year-old brother, had disappeared. Rumour said that they were kept within the stone walls of the ancient Tower of London - where state prisoners were incarcerated and executed. It was soon believed that the two lads had been put to death in The Tower, on the direct orders of their uncle, who then reigned as King Richard III. Two years later, Henry Richmond led a rebellion and, at the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was killed. Richmond was crowned King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor family of monarchs who then governed for more than a century.
So England's turbulent history rolled on. During Henry VII's reign, his official historians elaborated on the gossip about the late Richard III and the doomed Princes in The Tower, substantiating the story of a wicked tyrant who deserved to be deposed by the stalwart Tudor who succeeded him. It has been tellingly pointed out, with regard to the princes' legitimacy to the throne, that Henry VII had just as much to gain as Richard III, by their removal. Richard III's efficiency as a royal administrator was forgotten, along with his military successes in defence of the realm. His faults were stressed and perhaps exaggerated. Even his physical appearance was distorted by time. The real Richard III may have been disabled by a twisted spine but, fifty years after his death, he was described by the historian Edward Hall as "little of stature, evil-featured of limbs, crook-backed, the left shoulder much higher than the right, hard-favoured of visage. He was malicious, wrathful and envious and it is reported that he came into the world feet forward." When such details were repeated by Sir Thomas More in his authoritative History of King Richard III, the damage to reputation was almost complete. Vilification had been authenticated into history.
Of late, investigators have tried to prove that the real Richard was not after all the child murderer of popular history and that the two princes had survived and even escaped to live out their natural lives with adopted identities. One recent theory is more fascinating than the rest. It claims that the younger prince, the Duke of York, grew up under an assumed name surviving into his early nineties. If that were true, he would have died just as the genius was born who was to transform rumour and history into drama and myth.
The play is not a documentary about the man on whose life it is based. If Shakespeare accepted the Tudor version of the hunchback monster, he nevertheless called his version The Tragedy of Richard III (cf. The Life of Henry V or The Famous History of the Life of King Henry VIII). To direct the audience away from history and toward the events and themes of the play as far as they were relevant to their own lives, the original production would have been performed in contemporary, Elizabethan dress. Historical "authenticity" of costume and setting only became fashionable in the theatre of the Victorians, with their interest in things medieval.
As with Hamlet, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Twelfth Night, Othello and all the other Shakespeare I've most enjoyed doing, Richard Eyre's Richard III would be staged in a modern context. The clinching moment was when one of us asked: "How should the Prince of Wales be brought back to London before being sent to The Tower?" One of us said: "Don't the royals always arrive in London by rail?" And thereafter Act 3 Scene I was known as "Victoria Station."
The Crowley style of setting was minimal. Victoria Station was conjured up by a red carpet unrolled across the black floor of the empty stage, with a puff of smoke blown in from the wings, as the young Prince of Wales entered to inspect his guard of honour - four actors in red coats and black boots. The architecture, the steam-train and carriages were left to the audience's imagination, aided by the actors' belief in their non-existent surroundings. In my screenplay, all I had to do was fill this out into the setting as described in scene 62.
The crucial advantage of a modern setting is clarity of storytelling. It is impossibly confusing to try and distinguish between a multitude of characters who are all done up in floppy hats and wrinkled tights. Richard III has a long, complex cast-list but it is not a pageant. It analyses a sophisticated group of powerful and would-be powerful players. The political detail of the story cannot clearly unfold, unless each of these characters can be readily identified by profession and social status. The audience needs to be able to recognise who is royalty, aristocrat, commoner and who is politician, civil servant, military. By their clothes, you shall know them. If this were true of the play, it would be equally valid for the film.
Onstage it is possible to use an eclectic variety of costuming which does not fix the production in a specific year or century even. That seemed to have no advantage for this play. Nor could we expect our audience to imagine Richard III happening in present-day England: that would have only parodied current affairs. The historical events of the play had occurred just a couple of generations before the first audience saw them dramatised. The comparable period for us would be the 1930s, close enough for no-one to think we were identifying the plot of the play with actual events, any more than Shakespeare was writing about the real King Richard. He was creating history-which-never-happened. Our production was properly in the realm of "what might have been." Also, the '30s were appropriately a decade of tyranny throughout Europe, the most recent time when a dictatorship like Richard III's might have overtaken the United Kingdom, as it had done Germany, Italy, Spain and the empire of the Soviet Union.
Audiences across the world took the point and revealed a paradox: the more specific a production, the more general its relevance. Although our story was obviously an English one, audiences took the message personally wherever we toured. In Hamburg, Richard's blackshirt troops seemed like a commentary on the Third Reich. In Bucharest, when Richard was slain, the Romanians stopped the show with heartfelt cheers, in memory of their recent freedom from Ceaucescu's regime. In Cairo, as the Gulf War was hotting up, it all seemed like a new play about Saddam Hussein. One critic lambasted me for poor taste when I ruffled the young prince's hair, before imprisoning him, as Hussein had just been seen doing to a little English boy he had taken hostage. My stage business, of course, had been devised six months previously - life was imitating art. It was reminiscent of the scene in Arturo Ui, where Bertholt Brecht's seedy greengrocer learns the art of dictatorship by studying Richard III with a ham actor.
The sense of period in Bob Crowley's designs had depended mostly on his costumes and furniture. Scenic effects were created by Jean Kalman's lighting rather than by expressions of architecture. There were no walls, staircases or doors. As with 'Victoria Station', other scenes of the stage production that had been imagined in dining-rooms, committee-rooms, throne-rooms were easy to transcribe to reality. I described in the screenplay what had been my imaginary surroundings onstage and made them specific. I assumed that we should film in the real Tower of London - and I began to look forward to acting close to where the princes had been murdered 500 years ago. The royals in the film would live in Buckingham Palace or more likely its cinematic double, Blenheim Palace. It would be fun filming the politicians in the corridors of The Houses of Parliament and outside 10, Downing Street. Then I went too far.
In Act 3 Scene 2, Catesby the royal courtier calls on the politician Hastings. So I wrote:
26 INT. CATESBY'S OFFICE
Sir William Catesby, the King's private secretary, is on the phone to Lord Hastings, the Prime Minister.
The King's physicians fear him mightily. Prime Minister, the King doth call for you.
27 INT. HASTINGS' PRIVATE APARTMENT AT 10, DOWNING STREET
Hastings, 60 years old, is answering the phone, as his teenage mistress massages his fat body toward orgasm.
Catesby, I come!
With this and other infelicities in place, I completed my first draft of my first screenplay just as Richard III opened in Los Angeles.
Richard Eyre didn't approve of the modern props which had invaded the storytelling, particularly the telephones, motor cars and battle machinery. He also pointed out that I had written something that no television company could afford to finance these days. 500 costumed extras at a state banquet, for instance, with as many in the battle scenes, plus two dozen grandiose locations across London - such ambitions could only be realised, if at all, by a multi-million-dollar budget. That meant a major movie that would only be able to recover its investment by appealing to a large international audience. Nothing wrong with that, we agreed, except for two things.
The time needed in pre-production for such an enterprise now meant that Richard, with his daily commitments to the RNT, could not be the director. Nor could his original cast expect to retain their parts in a movie directed by someone else. As filmstars dropped by in my dressing-room after the show in Los Angeles, I sized them up. Might Danny De Vito want to play Buckingham? Surely he would prefer Richard III. Patrick Stewart - could Captain Picard be convincing as Clarence? I told Meryl Streep that the film Queen Elizabeth would be played as an American heiress who had married into the British Royal Family. I asked her whether she could do an American accent.
Mixing words and pictures, the screen has its own language. So, in adapting Richard III I was translating. Translation is an inexact art, carrying responsibilities to respect the author's ends, even as you willfully tamper with the means. I hadn't asked for Shakespeare's permission to fashion a film from his play. The least I could do was, change by change, cut by cut, ask myself whether he would have approved. I am used to this discipline. In rehearsing Shakespeare, I puzzle over the complexities of his verse and prose, its ambiguities and subtleties. Not having him present to consult, I think of his having just left the rehearsal-room, soon to return with the gentle query I've sometimes heard from living playwrights: 'What the hell do you think you're doing to my play?' There is always the justification that despite one's amendments, the "full text" will remain intact in any Collected Plays for the next fool to try and measure up to.
The most obvious difference between a cinema or television version of Shakespeare is in the number of words retained from the original play. A three-hour video can leave most of the text intact and still sell. Most cinema-owners want shorter movies, that get more showings per day. It is not just a matter of time. Romeo and Juliet, in modern productions, is a very long play: yet its Chorus refers to "the two hours' traffic of our stage" (the length, not coincidentally, of our finished film). Elizabethan actors, playing in small auditoria, would have spoken more quickly than we do today, in deference to their audience, most of whom were standing. In a two-hour talkie, even talking fast, you might just get through two-thirds of Richard III, one of the longest plays Shakespeare wrote. A theatre audience, by definition, ought to listen before it looks. Unlike Shakespeare's groundlings, a cinema audience would not stand for it.
Cutting Shakespeare has been going on for 400 years. The length of the first performances in the Globe Theatre would not only have depended upon speed of delivery. What we take to be "full texts" seem not always to have been the "acting texts." No original playscript in Shakespeare's handwriting has survived him: he did not expect to have his work preserved for posterity by publication. Modern editions are an amalgam from a variety of sources - the original manuscript, before and after it was amended for performance; what his cast may have remembered having acted, when consulted months or years later by the publishers; plus the imaginative accretions of subsequent editors. It is known that, on tour, the playtexts were cut for performance in the Elizabethan provinces. Why not also in the original London production? If then, why not today, in the theatre - and on the screen?
As in Richard Eyre's version, the first draft of the screenplay cut some characters and handed over a few of their lines to other characters. This throws emphasis and clarity onto the main action. If it is thought by those who know the play well that I have gone too far in not explaining, for example, how exactly Richard persuades King Edward to imprison their brother Clarence, I am not sure that Shakespeare did much better in what I excised from Act I Scene 1! I also cut all mention of Clarence's family and reimagined him as a bachelor. Too many other children in the film distract from the young princes and their fate in The Tower. The centre of Clarence's impact on the story is his own imprisonment and his nightmare which prefigures other dreams. Similarly, I removed Queen Elizabeth's grown-up children by her first marriage.
The Scrivener (3.6) and other unnamed citizens lost their brief appearances. Although I was reluctant to cut any of the few references to the world outside the corridors of power, it was possible to compensate visually with glimpses of the hospital in scene 23 and the political rally in scene 87.
I combed through the entire text to shorten it but without losing any of the detailed development of plot or character. Some reduction of the play's verbal impact was inevitable but much less damaging than in, say, Macbeth, where every poetical line is interdependent on the rest. The verse and language of Richard III, a much earlier play, are less dense than in the great tragedies. Although the young Shakespeare was writing almost entirely in verse, he frequently captured a conversational tone, which some recent stage Richards (or at least their directors) have missed. It is a tone that is ideal for the cinema.
The text I decided on in the first draft was changed very little by subsequent versions but one cut, draft by draft, I resisted. The widowed Queen Margaret represents the Lancastrian dynasty which Richard overthrew by killing her husband. She haunts Richard III like a living ghost, referring back to the recent and distant past. Yet, even theatre audiences are confused by her persistent litany of revenge. In the film, her powerful presence would not compensate for the time spent in explaining clearly who she is and has been. Once removed, Queen Margaret as a symbol of the past was replaced, in part, by the matriarchal Duchess of York, who took over a few other lines. In doing this, there was a change in emphasis. If the action of the play often looks back, the film is centred on the living moment and then looks forward. That impetus was underlined by bringing to life Princess Elizabeth, who in the play is an offstage character, even though she ends up as Queen of England. I similarly expanded the presence of Richmond, her husband-to-be.
Richard Gloucester's famous opening monologue recalls a civil war just ended, in which he had been an active participant. Shakespeare had already written three five-act plays about the Wars of the Roses. Henry VI parts I, 2 and 3 lengthily explore the dynastic relationships through three generations, whose ambitions, betrayals and murders inform the vengeful resolution in Richard III. These historical events were recent enough to have been familiar to Shakespeare's original audience: but 400 years on, we need help.
Of late, in the United Kingdom, theatre companies have followed the example of Peter Hall's Wars of the Roses (RSC, 1963) by presenting cut-down versions of all four plays played over two or three evenings. This is an ambitious solution to the exposition problem! Once they have endured six-or-more hours of the complications of the Henry VI trio, audiences reach the relatively simple progress of Richard Ill's plottings with relief - and with self-congratulation that, by that time, they can confidently identify all the characters and tell even a hawk from a handsaw.
Alternatively, the theatre programme for a Richard III on its own can tabulate royal family-trees and copious biographies: but it is difficult to study English history in the gloom of an auditorium. One production I saw boldly marched all the characters onstage before the play began and introduced them by name. The audience's panic was palpable, as they failed to grasp what was going on, let alone who was who.
Richard Eyre's production had the legend "Edward IV" projected onto the front curtain, confusing some to think they had arrived at the wrong play! Behind it I was waiting. Then there was a blackout, the scream of a horse in agony and the startling clang and clash of armaments, overwhelmed by shouts of victory. The curtain invisibly rose and the lights came up on the now silent, smoke-filled stage. Richard emerged from the back and slowly limped forward to address his audience. The first of the storytellers had arrived onstage - his colleagues waiting in the wings. The play began.
The place and time were no more defined than "here and now." Indeed "Now" is the first word spoken. In what real "here and now" should I place Richard - the reality, that is, of the screen?
A familiar cinematic solution is a caption indicating "the story so far" but I was initially reluctant to pre-empt Shakespeare's opening words with some of my own. Shouldn't the film start with pictures rather than words? Shouldn't we actually see Richard killing King Henry VI and his son the Prince of Wales, both of whose widows survive as part of the continuing story? So I recapitulated. First draft: October 1992 -
A black screen:
CAPTION - LONDON, ENGLAND: 1934
A number of pistol shots illuminate the prone KING HENRY VI.
A silver lighter lights a cigarette and is held out, as a hand checks the pulse of the new corpse. On the bedside table is a photo of KING HENRY VI and his QUEEN MARGARET. The lighter goes out.
CAPTION: THE TRAGEDY of RICHARD III
That got expanded. Second draft: January 1993 -
A black screen:
CAPTION - LONDON, ENGLAND.
INT. TOWER OF LONDON PRISON - DEAD OF NIGHT
A small cell where old KING HENRY VI is kept in solitary confinement.
Out of the almost total dark, there are ugly sounds of stabbing, struggling and pain, as a murder is invisibly committed. Guilty footsteps retreat as a cell door is opened - an imposing silhouette enters, as the door opens and is smartly closed.
In the foreground, a gunmetal Zippo lighter lights an Abdulla cigarette and reveals, beyond, the prone, butchered, dying KING HENRY VI. The old man stares up, as the same hand, still holding the lighter, dextrously cocks a military revolver, takes expert aim and fires the coup dc grace. The flash is blinding. The KING is dead. Outside, footsteps approach along the flagstones. The lighter clicks out as the door is flung open. The light behind them is enough to see the corpse's aged widow QUEEN MARGARET and his glamorous daughter-in-law LADY ANNE. They are aghast at the bloody mess. LADY ANNE faints but QUEEN MARGARET recognises the figure still holding the revolver. She opens her mouth to scream. Her wailing continues over . . .
CAPTION: THE TRAGEDY of RICHARD III.
Third draft: January 1994-
1 EXT. ROYAL FAMILY VAULT - DAY
The sun shines on the medieval vault, protected by a barbed-wire enclosure, set in an English parkland that shows the destructive ravages of a prolonged civil war. In the distance, smoke rises from the battlefield.
The ROYAL PARTY slowly approaches, preceded by two GUARDS, carrying three floral wreaths. These are ceremonially handed to KING HENRY VI (black armband on his naval uniform) and his wife QUEEN MARGARET and their daughter-in-law LADY ANNE - both veiled in deep, funereal mourning. A flashbulb flashes. The scene is recorded.
The Royal Party enters the dark interior. The large, wooden door closes, leaving the guards outside.
2 INT. ROYAL FAMILY VAULT - DAY
Dusty sunbeams fall through the stained-glass windows, colouring the stone floor. Pillars, statues, candles.
King Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Lady Anne walk to a new mausoleum. Their FOOTSTEPS ECHO in the silence.
The King and Queen place their tributes against the marble plinth.
Queen Margaret lifts her heavy veil and puts on her glasses/lorgnettes to read the inscription:
'HRH PRINCE EDWARD SON TO HM KING HENRY VI & QUEEN MARGARET'
King Henry VI is kneeling in prayer.
Queen Margaret rises to join Lady Anne on the other side of the monument.
Lady Anne, deeply distressed, has placed her wreath under the second inscription:
'HUSBAND TO LADY ANNE OF WARWICK'
Queen Margaret stoically comforts her daughter-in-law.
From the other side of the tomb, there are oddly sinister sounds of muffled violence and a long gasp for breath.
Queen Margaret, alarmed, moves round to see King Henry VI slumped to the floor, lying in a pool of stained-glass light.
Lady Anne joins her mother-in-law. As she turns over King Henry VI's body, she faints and falls into his pool of blood.
There is a CLICK of a gunmetal Zippo as an Abdulla is lit in this holy place.
Queen Margaret glances up. She mouths his name.
ZOOM IN to see, for the first time, the grim, half-lit face of RICHARD, Duke of Gloucester. He is sweating.
Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York!
Richard points at himself.
RICHARD III - a Tragedy by William Shakespeare.
Having settled on a final draft, which was eventually filmed and which can now be read here (Webmaster's note: linking soon), the opening lines were further delayed by the Victory Ball scenes, which introduced the principal players.
Before 1990, I had had no interest in playing Richard III. Indeed, I had long dismissed the play as not fit for modern consumption. Its sell-by date had surely expired, once modern psychology had questioned the cruel assumption of Shakespeare's contemporaries that physical deformity was an outward expression of some inner moral turpitude. Studying the play reveals an opposite proposition - that Richard's wickedness is an outcome of other people's disaffection with his physique. His mother's cursing outburst in scene 97 exemplifies the verbal and emotional abuse which from infancy has formed her youngest son's character and behaviour. Academics can be too adamant when exploring the origins of Elizabethan drama. They note the symbolism of characters in those medieval morality plays with which Shakespeare was undoubtedly familiar. They miss what actors discover, that Shakespeare fleshed out those types and made them human.
It is an odd, critical commonplace that, despite so many performances to the contrary, Richard III is still accepted as an embodiment of pure evil. This charge has also been levelled at Iago. Having just played that part and delved into the jealous psychology of a sexually frustrated husband, I was prepared to explore Richard's humanity rather than reduce him to an emblem of wickedness.
All of Shakespeare's troubled heroes reveal their inner selves in their confidential soliloquies. These are not thoughts-out-loud, rather true confessions to the audience. Richard may lie to all the other characters but within his solo speeches he always tells the truth. I never doubted that in the film he would have to break through the fourth wall of the screen and talk directly to the camera, as to a confidant. If this unsettled the audience, so much the better. They should not be comfortable hearing his vile secrets and being treated as accomplices. They would also better appreciate the brilliance of his ability to fool, deceive and seduce his hapless victims. Men and women are all players to Shakespeare but Richard is a consummate actor.
He is also a professional fighting soldier. Shakespeare, throughout his work, returned to what seems like an obsession with the behaviour of the military during peacetime. Othello, Troilus & Cressida and Much Ado About Nothing deal with troops of soldiers who, idle after battle, make mischief. Macbeth, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar each examine individual charismatic and admirable commanders who, disastrously for themselves and others, blunder into civilian politics. One of the themes of Richard III is proven by modern history - that good generals do not necessarily make good statesmen. Some actors have thought to play him as a mass murderer. But he is a tyrant not a psychopath. Indeed, rather late in the day, he reveals a troubled conscience in his final, alarming soliloquy. I attempted to make this guilt more credible in the screenplay, helped by cinematic close-up, by hinting at Richard's inner moral turmoil each time a victim dies. As for the actual killings, I expanded the presence of Tyrell, the play's disaffected gentleman, and made him the subordinate who was prepared to obey any order from his superior officer.
This interpretation is at odds with the tradition of Richard III as primarily a star vehicle. Colley Cibber set the pattern in 1700 when he literally made the part his own. He slashed the text and added as many of his own lines to what was left. Since him, the play has attracted a multitude of leading actors and never been out of fashion with theatre-goers all over the world. Then in 1956, cinema audiences were introduced to Laurence Olivier's overwhelming performance. Although he included a couple of Cibber's more famous additions he removed Queen Margaret and most of Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York. Of late, in the theatre, the supporting characters have been given more attention, revealing a family drama of power-politics, more tragic than melodramatic. Our film represents that reassessment of Richard III as much more than a one-man show.
Something similar is true of Henry V. Olivier's war-time film was immediately popular in 1944, because it stressed the patriotism of an English king vanquishing a foreign power. Each generation has always been able to extract from Shakespeare its own message. On many stages, from the 1960s onwards, as European peace prevailed, directors discovered within Henry V an anti-war theme. When Adrian Noble cast the 24-year-old Kenneth Branagh in his Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1984, audiences marvelled at the young actor's assured expertise and a star was born. But there was nothing revolutionary about Noble's view of the play as a sombre exposť of the misery of war. When Branagh transferred his performance to film, cinema audiences and critics who don't go to the theatre were understandably astonished by a Henry V which reinterpreted the text they knew only from Olivier's film.
Branagh's success with Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing and Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet starring Mel Gibson were fresh in the minds of financiers whom I hoped to interest in another film based on a very popular Shakespeare play, which could be screened in mainstream cinemas round the world. To prepare myself I eschewed all offers of theatre work and acted exclusively for the screen in mainly supporting or small parts. By visiting other people's films I gained confidence in front of the cameras.
At the same time, I was steered around the major studios in Hollywood, screenplay in one hand, my agent in the other. If only one of those large self-contained organisations would take over the screenplay, they would also buy all the distribution rights worldwide and off to work we would go. I pointed out with confidence to polite, junior studio-executives that, these days, filmed stage classics need not belong only in art-houses and that this particular story of intrigue and murder could be universally popular. There was a general muted enthusiasm and some promises to consider buying the movie once it was made but with no suggestion of any loan in the meantime. One studio boss read the script and telephoned me to say that Richard III was "too dark: the public only wants Pollyanna Shakespeare."
I also tackled independent producers who, with little money of their own, raise financial backing for films by selling piecemeal the rights to show them in separate territories round the world. In London, one of these bought me lunch and took away the script, since when I have heard nothing from him, except by hearsay: "Ian McKellen will never get that film going."
Anyway he was too late, because in Los Angeles my agent David Saunders of A.P.A. had discovered allies at First Look Pictures. This husband-and-wife team, Ellen and Robby Little, needed no persuasion and bought the rights to the second draft of the screenplay. Robby and I were born within fifty miles of each other in the north of England and Ellen met him when she was a student of Renaissance art: kindred spirits. Crucially, they were unfazed by the idea of a middle-aged, English stage-actor hoping to star in an international movie!
So, off we went to the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, to look for investors.
I was a fool to think we were home and dry. It is a laborious process convincing cinema-owners in disparate countries that their audiences will eventually enjoy a film when it is still nothing more than words and dreams in a screenplay. As the Littles talked to the Japanese, the Spanish and the Italians, I could see their problem. Thus far, all they had to sell was their own enthusiasm for Shakespeare and for me. A large percentage of audiences for an English-language movie see it with subtitles or dubbed into their own language. So much for the selling power of Shakespeare's verse. Of course, if Ken or Mel or, best of all Arnie or Sly were cast as Richard, it would have been easier. Some promises of money slowly dribbled in from a world I knew nothing of - banks, investors and cinema conglomerates. I couldn't be much help to the Littles. Eighteen months later, the promises had dried up, when Lisa Katselas Pare and her partner Steven Bayly amicably took over as the full-time producers.
They were well-suited to the daunting job of instilling confidence in potential investors. As Americans working in London, they could plausibly present the case for an English-based project which would be aimed at an international audience. Once they had interested United Artists in acquiring the rights to distribution in North America, the film acquired a status elsewhere. North America is universally known as "domestic," wherever a film is to be made. "Foreign" means simply "anywhere other than USA" including the United Kingdom. Any fear I had that therefore Hollywood might patronisingly think of Richard III as a minor foreign venture was dispelled once I met the urbane anglophile John Calley, studio head of United Artists, and his colleague James Middleton. They realised the obvious - that there has always been a large audience for Shakespeare and that our film might have a long shelf-life on video. Calley also had a hunch that if the finished film were as accessible as the screenplay, there was a chance that it might also draw an audience for whom "Shakespeare" has previously spelled boredom and incomprehension. His foresight gave confidence to other distributors. In London, Ian Scorer and Zakiya Powell of Mayfair Entertainment International made their bid to distribute the film beyond the "domestic" territory.
Nothing that followed on from this strong support by Pare, Bayly,
MGM/UA and Mayfair and British Screen Ltd and BSkyB would have been possible without Richard Loncraine, the director. Unknowingly, I had admired his work for years; his films, of course, but also his 400 or so anonymous commercials and the executive toys, including "Newton's Cradle" which he developed and marketed so successfully. Richard likes to know how everything works: his house is full of bicycles, cameras and computers, all in immaculately working order. Every detail of film-making fascinates him, from the practical mechanics and the artistic considerations of design and casting, through to marketing. Had I known this at our first meeting, I should have been even more grateful than I was that he really liked my screenplay and wanted to bring it to the screen. Yet when he came round to talk, he stressed his reticence.
Like many film professionals, he rarely goes to the theatre and is impervious to its allure. Consequently, his view of Shakespeare has not developed beyond the distorted perspective of stage productions remembered from his youth. That is why he found the directness of the screenplay so appealing. He did not take on the job with a missionary zeal but simply as a director who recognised a gripping story that he could make work excitingly on screen. We were ideally matched, ready to defer to each other's expertise and to learn. We began with a rigorous re-look at the screenplay. From now on I'll call him RL.
I was prepared for the worst - that RL might want me to go back and start all over. He didn't. The text entranced him enough scene by scene that his suggestions were all to do with pictures rather than words, with the style of presentation and of filming. As he described his visual responses, my job as his co-writer became clear. I had to make sure that Shakespeare did not become overwhelmed and that, however it was decorated, the film would remain rooted in his words and his intentions as I understood them. The notes which follow clarify the origins of the film in Shakespeare's text and in Richard Eyre's production of it, however distant those may now be. Our final screenplay follows my first draft, in that the spoken text remains almost as I had cut it two years previously.
I turned down all work that would compete for my time, so that for three months, almost each day, we could re-work the screenplay, usually at RL's house, sustained by the cooking and encouragement of Felice Loncraine. She too is a screenplay writer. Our plan was simple - together we imagined what we wanted, then I went home to put it on the page for others to read. Between times, we communicated by fax and by telephone. RL tried to explain the miracles of the modem so that our word processors might mate in the ether: but he failed. Now, a year since we started, it is difficult to be certain which ideas came from me and which from him. The happy truth is that we did it together.
One immediate decision was made: we would not, as I had planned, set the film within familiar public buildings in London. If our story was a piece of fictitious history, I agreed that easily recognisable locations should be avoided. The Tower of London was re-labelled "The Tower" and Buckingham Palace became simply "The Royal Palace." The art department would scout for photogenic buildings more appropriate than famous tourist sites which carry with them irrelevant connotations.
Our imaginations were not always allowed to run free. Although I was kept in touch with the ups-and-downs and the ins-and-outs of the money-raising, these were not my responsibility. I could not, though, be sheltered from them, whenever they trespassed onto artistic considerations. A budget was set, based on what the distributors guessed they might get back from ticket sales. About £6,000,000 seemed to be the limit; a low budget for such a visually ambitious movie. Our locations would have to be within striking distance of London, to cut down on heavy travel and accommodation costs. There were casting implications too. Our distributors were adamant that two or three of the actors should be internationally famous, yet we could not afford their usual salaries and allowances. We would be dependent on the goodwill of all the cast, crew and technicians to whom we could offer only minimum wages. Those who are credited at the end of this book are generous adventurers, to whom I shall always be grateful.
I began to meet these recruits to our enterprise, often at Shepperton Studios where our central office masterminded the schedule over nine weeks of pre-production. At his Shepperton workshop, I met Daniel Parker, fresh from his Oscar nomination for his work on the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He would design my make-up.
There are many graphic descriptions of Richard's appearance in Henry VI Part 3. In Richard III, there is scope for the actor to identity his own deformity. I had shown RL the following extracts (heavy type denotes what was included in the screenplay).
I that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I that am rudely-stamped . . .
I that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished . . . scarce half made up
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I pass by them. (Richard)
my own deformity . . . me that halts and am mis-shapen thus (Richard)
Behold my arm is like a blasted sapling withered up (Richard)
thou lump of foul deformity . . . diffused infection of a man . . . hedgehog ... a fouler toad . . . (Lady Anne)
that bottled spider (Queen Elizabeth)
That foul bunch-backed toad
that deadly eye of yours . . . Thou elvish-marked, abortive,
rooting hog . . . (Margaret)
Thou toad (Duchess of York)
There have been Richards who took their enemies' insults at face value and modelled their make-up and gait on spiders and on toads. I wanted to look like a soldier who has conquered his incapacities and, as onstage, base my appearance on Richard's first honest reference to his deformity as being "half made-up." That clue led to Richard's "good side" (the right) and his "bad side" (the left). So I limped on my left leg and kept my useless left arm out of sight except in scene 71. The left side of my face would hang somewhat, congenitally struck.
Daniel Parker moulded three gelatinous, sagging shapes which were glued under my left eye and left jaw to exaggerate my bags and jowl, with the third appearing to pull down my upper lip - again on the left side. This last was soon replaced by a sturdier moulding of latex that would not melt as hot liquids and food passed it by at lunch breaks. The mouth was further distorted by a lower-set of stained teeth. The left eye carried a hand-painted contact lens, reducing the size of my pupil but as this registered only when the camera was close, I was spared its discomfort most of the time. Thanks to the part-inherited expertise of Daniel (his father was the famous make-up man Charlie Parker) none of these additions looked false nor impeded my facial or vocal expression.
Each day's shooting began in Daniel's private make-up van two and a half hours before I was needed on set to film. Often I snoozed, but most of the time I enjoyed watching a master at work, as he coloured over the prosthetics with a variety of paints and greases. Before he stuck on Richard's pencil-line moustache (my idea), I visited the main make-up trailer for my shortcut hair to be greased and combed back into a flat 30s style by Stephen Rose. The third of my daily friends who helped soothe my early-morning grumps was my colleague from the theatre, Mig Kimpton, who produced my solo show Acting Shakespeare on its tour of the United Kingdom six years ago. He was keen to see a film being made at close-quarters. In exchange, he gave me constant company and help each day. Mig completed Richard's appearance by slipping the latex hump into its pocket below my left shoulder. My spine twisted along with the rest, looking in the mirror in my caravan, I could believe myself to be 'rudely-stamped' ready to limp out and onto the set.