Ian McKellen E-Posts


Q: As the original text of Richard III was one of the texts for my final year of A-level English Literature, your film helped tremendously in familiarising myself with the play. On the other hand, I couldn't imagine Richard on anything other than a tank and my frequent references in my exam essay to machine guns and 'Gestapo-like' uniforms was not smiled upon by the markers. Oh well. You weren't to know.

A: Oh dear — I seem to remember being warned at school not to mention specific theatre productions when discussing Shakespeare in an exam. I suppose academics still think of his plays as literature rather than as drama. The truth is that each production will illuminate the text afresh and there is no "correct" answer, even in an examination essay.

Richard for the Young

From: Jeanine Gravitt marchhare32@webtv.net

Q: We finally got ahold of a copy of Richard III at the video store. And I introduced it to many groans from my sons...(my previous attempts at introducing them to the Bard, i.e.: actually reading it to them, produced less then stunning reviews the kindest of which, I believe, was "This sucks.") But the boys were game when I told them the gent who played Magneto was the lead. I told them to tell me to pause it if they needed any translations and plunged ahead. I didn't have to pause but once when Jon (12) asked about the line of succession Richard was navigating. They loved it. I loved it. Nolan (9) kept an enthusiastic body count with periodic exclamations of "Whoops! There goes another one!" and Jon wanted me to keep it an extra day because he wanted to watch it and when I pointed out that it would be overdue he got up at 6am before school to watch it again with me.

Two things. Jon noticed before I that the closer Richard got to his goal the more fascist...dark...nazi-esque the surroundings and costumes became. Whose idea was this and to set the play in the early 1930's? I feel this was one of the reasons it succeeded in capturing my boys' attentions. Familiar vehicles of war and death...the tank, plane, gun, jeep, etc translated better then the horse and sword. And this play, in particular, played in the new set flawlessly.

A: The director and designer of the stage production on which the movie is based discussed the setting with me in a series of exploratory meetings. Richard Eyre and Bob Crowley and I can, at this distance, take joint credit for the 1930's setting. Other related concerns were that Richard should be seen to be a professional soldier and that the production should not be cluttered with irrelevant props like phones. (This is gone into in the introduction to the screenplay.) Our aim was always to clarify the text and make the story and characters available to the alert. I am so glad that it worked for Jon and Nolan and hope that they have since enjoyed other Shakespeare.

Lady Anne's Seduction

From: Lara@nelemans.freeserve.co.uk

Q: I am an 'A' level theatre studies student who has elected to do Act 1, scene 2 of "Richard III" as part of my performance skill. Seeing how powerfully you and Kristen Scott Thomas did it on screen I was wondering whether you could help me by giving me a little advice on Lady Anne's motivation for that scene.

A: You have one advantage over Kristin — you can play the full text of the long scene. After all Richard does simply wear down Anne's defences. Hold on to the sense that Anne has been abandoned by her husband and by good fortune — so that Richard can arrive as a substitute, offering to replace all she has lost in widowhood. Don't be fazed by the rhetoric of rhyme and repetition — these should be useful in expressing Anne's intense and self-absorbing grief. The stronger your anger against him the more emotionally exhausted you will become and therefore the more vulnerable to his advances.

The End

From: ravenrook@bolt.com

Q: My friends and I recently saw Richard III. It was brilliant. I have to read the original now. We were a little confused about the ending, where you smile up at the camera while falling as does your slayer after he shoots you. Could you please explain it to us? 

A: King Richard has thrown himself to certain death before his rival Richmond fires the coup de grace. When Richmond re-groups with his supporters, he will claim himself as Richard's assassin. Richard perhaps knows this irony that leaders are never to be trusted, particularly ones as pretty as our Richmond.

Richard's laugh as he falls through the flames suggests his confidence that he will be back someday soon: when the next actor plays him, perhaps.

V the Beeb

Q: I am interested in knowing how your interpretation of Richard III is different from the BBC version.

A: You could answer this yourself by looking at the DVD of Richard Loncraine's film and comparing it with the BBC's video. Each theatre production of a play is different and it is the same with the varying screenplays adapted from the stage.


Q: Having adapted Richard III for the screen (brilliantly, I'll add), how would you describe your approach to adaptative screenwriting in general?

Q: I have dealt with this in the introduction to the published screenplay of Richard III. Basically, adapting a play or novel for the screen is akin to translating from another language. Make sure you know the original text inside out and can clearly identify the intention of each scene. Then you will be able to work out what, if anything you can cut, and how Shakespeare's stage devices can be replaced by cinematic ones.

Shakespeare on Screen

Q: Do you think that you will be conquering a new generation of fans after X-Men and Lord of the Rings — people who make the common mistake of thinking that a Shakespeare-based movie without Leo DiCaprio is 'boring'? And do you think that, based on your work, those young guys will pay more attention to the Great Bard's screen adaptations and, therefore, to the plays on which they are based?

A: I should be happy if that happened, although my film of Richard III was intended to stand as a piece of genuine cinema, independent of the play.

Historical Accuracy

Q: As you might be aware, some question has been raised as to the historical accuracy of Shakespeare's Richard III (questions best defined, for example, by Josephine Tey's 'The Daughter of Time'). Do you think these questions have merit? And does it have any impact on the play itself?

A: Not being an historian I have happily believed that Shakespeare's version of Richard III was at odds with the facts about the real king. I write about it in the introduction to the published screenplay of Richard III (available from this site).

It is worth noting that John Julius Norwich cautions in Shakespeare's Kings (Scribner 1999) against believing the novelist Josephine Tey's "legend" rather than Shakespeare's source Sir Thomas More, who was "a formally canonised saint and who possessed the finest legal brain in Europe".

Richard III as Trendsetter

From: drevil@as-if.com

Q: Would you say that your Richard III started the trend of contemporary (and slick) interpretations of the Bard's work on film during the late 90's (e.g., Baz Luhrmann's florid Romeo and Juliet)? To my recollection, none of the recent Shakespeare movies (Branagh's Hamlet, Much Ado plus various disappointing Hollywood attempts) predate Richard III. Do you generally approve of this sort of band-wagon effect?

A: Call it a bandwagon or the zeitgeist, certainly film financiers take comfort from the success of other movies in a genre. But the adapting of Shakespeare for the screen is as old as film itself - the oldest extant feature film is a silent and melodramatic version of Richard III. If you refer to replacing Shakespeare's action in a non-Elizabethan setting, this has been happening in stage productions for at least 300 years.

Richard III as Seducer

From: Jennifer Kramer awhoney@hotmail.com

Q: I am researching something that will compare aspects of your filmed Richard 111 and Olivier's. In his writing about his film, he specifies how he wanted everyone in the audience, male and female, to be seduced by his performance the way the characters are by Richard's wiles - and I don't think he meant in a general sense that he merely wanted everyone to love his performance. Yet in your book you mention seeing the film but remember only being impressed by everyone and excited at the idea of popularizing Shakespeare. Were you so immune to his charms?

A: I was seduced more by Olivier's acting than Richard's.