“Within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temple of a king keeps Death at his court…”

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Ben Wishaw as Richard II

Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

On Monday I finally got round to watching the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Richard II’ in its ‘The Hollow Crown’ series…and I loved it! Ben Whishaw was incredible as the titular character himself, and I could definitely see how he had been influenced by Michael Jackson towards the beginning; the monkey made this especially clear as well as Whishaw’s bored, weak, painfully self-consious playing of the King. The director (Rupert Goold) made the Christ-parallels very obvious throughout, but it was still effective, as Tim Dowling of ‘The Guardian’ put better than I ever could: “This isn’t the director’s obsession, but Richard’s. He is a play-acting king, his rule a self-serving melodrama. As Jacobi, who essayed the part on TV in 1978, put it, “the great dichotomy of playing Richard is that he is always his own audience”. Whishaw catches this sense of Richard brilliantly, and also his caprice. You get the feeling the king could be swayed by entreaty, even when you know he won’t be. So convinced is he of his divine right to rule, he is playing the whole business by ear. Whishaw manages the near-impossible in a history play: he makes you momentarily doubt the outcome.”

I really could not have put that any better myself, and that is basically how I felt throughout the entire play. This play is not about action; in fact, Henry Bolingbroke’s entire revolution is an anticlimax – over before they can start fighting. Instead, it’s all about the language, not only the descriptions but also the incredible phrases that seem to sum up a feeling in just a few words. For example:

  • “How long a time lies in one little word! Four lagging winters and four wanton springs End in a word: such is the breath of kings.”
  • Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.
  • “You may my glories and my state depose, But not my griefs; still am I king of those.”

 Rory Kinnear was great as Bolingbroke, and got the sense of confusion that he must have felt when confronted with the over-dramatising, deluded of his own God-given right to power Richard. Patrick Stewart was also great when speaking the famous “This sceptered isle” speech, and David Suchet and (the gorgeous) Tom Hughes were also impressive as the Duke of York and his son. I can’t wait until the next one in the series: ‘Henry IV Part 1″ starring Jeremy Irons which plays tomorrow on BBC 2 at 21.00. Thanks to everyone who’s reading this and has commented; Karen, Ruth, Lizzie…

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