The Hollow Crown S01E01; Richard II (2012), Rupert Goold (director)

Daniel J. Rowe 

The Hollow Crown series kicks off the tetralogy with a bang on the backs of incredible acting talent, savvy directing and an overall appreciation of just how great the histories of William Shakespeare can be.


 

It has long been a question tossed around in the vaunted halls of the Bard Brawl: Why doesn’t anyone produce Shakespeare’s histories?

It seems the only ones who appreciate the brilliance of the history plays are certain medieval re-creation societies, monarchy scholars or the basketball and hockey fans who mistake the Kings in the titles for the sports franchises in LA and Sacramento (though who in their right mind is supporting the Sacramento Kings these days? Am I right?)

The Hollow Crown series answers the question with an exclamation point that looks a lot like an bullet hole. The tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV part I and II, and Henry V is produced with style, substance and power.

This humble brawler gives his official thank you to whoever pitched the idea first and second to those involved with the project.

Rupert Goold directs Richard II, the first episode in the series, and dang is it good.

Ben Whishaw plays the arrogant, naive, and ultimately tragic king, who first sits comfortable on the throne in glory and pomp, and then laments his kingdom’s passing into the hands of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear).

I know many of you are asking, “why would we ever need more out of Richard II than what the Bard Brawl has already offered us?” To answer: I know, I know, but to watch simply adds to the overall genius of the Bard Brawl’s audio podcasts. That’s all.

Goold’s episode is fantastic.

The performances in the episode are fantastic.

The sets, scenery and style are all, yep, fantastic.

The actors from the leads all the way down to the Gardener (David Bradley), who for some reason gets lead billing, leave no opportunity to show their quality unchecked. The opening scenes between Richard, Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) can be really confusing and a little boring. It’s hard to understand what the offence is (CCCCEO Eric Jean explains the whole thing if you’re still confused). The three actors with subtle movements and clever reactions put the turmoil in the kingdom into such clear focus it makes those that miss some of the language and real politic of late 12th century England understand what’s going on. These are real people fighting for their honour in a system where the king is head and his subjects below.

There’s a beauty bit early where Mowbray is pleading his case before Richard, and Richard turns to his pet monkey and feeds it. Very nice.

Then there’s this scene:

Shivers. If I don’t meet Captain Picard before I or he dies, I will be sad.

Whishaw and Kinnear’s performances are brilliant. As one’s power crumbles and the other’s rises, their personas and gravitas do the opposite. For one actor to pull this effect off is great, for two in the same production is simply brilliant. Actors out there should study these two talents. I just watched Kinnear in Southcliffe, he was great. Whishaw is in one of my favourite series, the Hour.

Whishaw is tasked with three great soliloquies (never an easy task) starting with the following where the series gets its name:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown (BING!)
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
– Act 3, Scene 2

A certain brawler I know loves this monologue and it’s not hard to see why.

Richard’s final scenes as king, and following where he’s forced into advocating the crown are incredible. Goold does not spare on the Christ imagery including a shot of the crownless Richard riding a white donkey to meet the new king Henry IV. It may border on heavy handed symbolism there, but it works (particularly because Whishaw seems destined to be cast as Jesus at some time in the future. It’s the all in the hair and beard).

Oh, and there are heads falling into rivers, and rolling all over the ground for all you gore fans.

As a side note: Al Gore fans might also appreciate the anointed king being supplanted storyline as well. No, tea party members, I am not suggesting your beloved U.S. president is in any way shape or form similar to a king or that dynastic rule full of courts dominated by powerful families is what the land of stars and stripes is destined for. Wait a second…

After watching the first episode of the Hollow Crown, the appetite for more is unavoidable.

Listening to, and reading the histories can be tough. The characters’ names are hard to follow and the plots can be very convoluted. However, that does not mean they are not as great as any of the big gun, seat filling tragedies or comedies.

Richard II is rarely done (although I found this trailer for one that looks crazy interesting). The Hollow Crown episode one was the first time I’d ever seen the play on film or stage, and Goold makes it utterly compelling, incredibly interesting and as powerful as Lear or Othello.

I have, gentle brawlers, become a fan of the Hollow Crown series.

 

Othello (1981), Jonathan Miller (director)

Daniel J. Rowe

It’s always sad when a bard legend leaves us. Unfortunately for us youngins’ we will simply have to suck it up and get used to it, as the legends who brought us great stage performances since the 60s are turning 70, 80 and 90.

So it goes, as another great writer once put it. So it goes.

Bob Hoskins has 114 acting credits to his name, and he played arguably the greatest villain in all of Shakespeare, Iago. It was in the BBC’s 1981 production of Othello. Wanna Watch? Full version below.

That was fun. You’re welcome.

First off, the makeup.

I’ll admit, it takes a second and a little swallowing of appropriateness when Anthony Hopkins (not Moorish) steps on camera as the Moor, Othello. Othello has been portrayed in a number of ways with some actors going full on blackface (always a ‘treat’), some producers amping up the orientalist look (still not completely appetizing), and some productions getting a black actor to play it. The last choice is the best to be sure, but some of the others are not all bad. Are Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier or Paul Scofield racist for wanting the best role or maybe just arrogant to think that they can pull it off?

Pick another part guys. Hey! Why not Iago?

That being said, Hopkins is very good in this Othello. He travels the gauntlet that is the role, and encapsulate the power of the tragedy. He works well alongside the other impressive talent in this play, and is great on-screen with Hoskins.

Speaking of which.

(Hey! Hopkins and Hoskins. That’s fun)

Iago is one of the most complicated and important roles in all of Shakespeare, and if you miscast the sadistic murdering villain, the production’s doomed. Just ask Kenneth Brannagh (Actually, don’t ask. he won’t admit he was the wrong choice. It’s best not to ask).

Hoskins is able to nail the key question about Iago: why does anyone like/believe him? The answer is in the performance. Hoskins is blunt, crude, and a little nasty, but not in the way any of those friends you know you have are. It’s that bluntness and hamminess that allows Iago to throw the other characters off his scent, so he can mess with them and litter the stage with bodies.

That, and the verbal missiles he fires through the fourth wall are great.

Take Act V, scene i, the scene where all of Iago is on display.

Hoskins will be missed as an actor for simply being able to pull of this scene. He, as Iago, first manipulates Roderigo into doing something he’s not entirely sure he wants to do, then laughs at his plan, then realizes he might get found out, decides to kill Cassio, actually kills Roderigo, tears his shirt in two to help mend Cassio (everyone totally buying the act), blames Bianco for being a strumpet and has her carted off, and then nails this killer line:

This is the night that either makes me, or foredoes me quite.

…And scene.

Man this play is great.

It’s worth the three hours to watch Hoskins in this scene. He uses his whole body, and can deliver so much expression with his face. It’s really quite a performance, and he hasn’t even killed his wife yet.

The rest of the cast is also very good.

Just before Act V,i, check out Penelope Wilton (yes Isobel Crawley to those Downton Abbey devotees (poor Matthew)) nail the heartbreaking IV,iii all while being stared at by a skull. Very good.

Sheesh this play is intense.

Oh, and then there’s the final scene. Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the play or movie version, but let’s just say the final line is not, “all in all it was a really weird trip to Cyprus.”

Demand me nothing; what you know, you know:

From this time forth I will never speak word.

– Iago.

Rest In Peace Bob Hoskins (1942-2014).

You will be missed.

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