Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|William Shakespeare's Richard the Second|
Actors: Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde, Barry Smith, Ellen Zachos, Robert F. McCafferty
Director: John Farrell
Glad I bought it despite the mixed reviews
J. Courtright | Normal, IL USA | 01/14/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"For some odd reason I only saw the "brilliant" review this week when I decided to add this to my collection this week. Collecting Shakespeare on DVD can be a bit of a gamble, and this one truly is a mixed bag, and the extra feature "Behind the Scenes" helps explain why. It's hard to believe that this producer and director opted for 1" video and a transfer to 35mm in 2001--the director says he wanted to avoid the look of a soap opera. Well, granted, but had it not been for some ability to use varied shots for interest, this could have become Blair Witch Project meets Shakespeare. It's not as bad as all that, but certainly very uneven, or, charitably, marked by a surreal quality due to the interesting setting of a fort in Quincy Bay near Boston. The strengths of this film: Matte Osian turns in a creditable performance as Richard, especially from the point he surrenders his crown to the end of the movie--he captures the ironic majesty that Richard displays once he is no longer king; Robert McCafferty as Northumberland is very good in most of his scenes; and Frank O'Donnell captures old John of Gaunt in a way that I imagined when I read the play in college almost 30 years ago. The downsides of this film will be those that displease Shakespeare purists most: (1) The sound at times is muddy due to the choice of setting, especially for the interior scenes. This is worse due to some strange audio mixing choices that have been added to somehow emphasize certain lines, thereby diminishing them. (2) Shakespeare's text here is appreciated but not given center stage. The producer, according to the extra features, had access to an ammunition specialist, some AK-47s and other weapons, and the director made far too much use of them. This play is not supposed to have gratuitous violence like Julie Taymor's version of Titus Andronicus, but it's use of guns and bombs comes close to it--violence for its own sake. (3) This is worsened by the pacing of the lines and the scenes, which is not helped by the horrible editing job! There are so many apparently "meaningful" scenes without words, but I fail to see what depth has been added. (4) Instead, some of the best sets of lines Shakespeare wrote in his early years are lost--John of Gaunt's "this sceptred isle, this England" speech among them. (5) Finally, how Richard and his Queen respond to the tragedy is changed completely as the film moves to its conclusion. Some day I hope to own the very expensive Shakespeare Plays from the BBC/PBS, but until I can see that very young Derek Jacobi playing Richard II in my own living room, this DVD will have to do. It has enough merit to be interesting; it raises several questions for discussion with friends of the Bard."
Bad acting, poor production values
Aging Boomer | United States | 09/04/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Acting as bad as it gets, together with low production values in the manner of a direct-to-video movie, in themselves would render this DVD a complete waste of time and money. But there's more. The production is an early example (the material on this newly released DVD apparently was recorded in 1987) of succumbing to a temptation apparently irresistible to modern directors, to set Shakespeare's histories or tragedies in a vaguely proto-fascist (or is it post-apocalyptic--one hardly cares) nightmare world, where the brutal setting overshadows and obscures the seriousness of the issues raised by the play, the complexity of its characters, and the nobility of its language. This approach to Shakespeare was done well only once, in Ian McKellen's stage and then film versions of Richard III, a very different play about a very different king. There are two good DVD versions of Richard II. The BBC version with Derek Jacobi as Richard, Jon Finch as Bolingbroke, and John Gielgud as Gaunt, is superb, and is included in the recent five-play collection of BBC Histories from Ambrose Video, available on amazon. There is also a good version available on amazon with, of all people, David Birney as Richard. Unfortunately the DVD is a poor transfer from VHS. The ESC version with Michael Pennington is on video, not DVD, and is hard to find, but it's good. Buy or rent one of those, and stay away from this one. And no, I'm not opposed to "modern" settings of Shakespeare, just to bad productions."
A Note from the Producers
John Farrell | Boston, MA United States | 09/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you're more a Shakespeare purist than a movie buff--and you like your Bard on a plain sound stage with proper costumes (capes, cloaks, leotards) and nothing but the ensemble from the Old Vic, well this rendition is probably not for you. (The slight 'twist' at the end of the film may also have fanatical purists up in arms.)
If however, you enjoy cinema--if you'd like to hear Shakespeare's poetry where I think it belongs, in the elements--on fortress battlements overlooking the sea, in dark dungeons dripping with moisture and in the night forests with the wind and crickets hovering behind a rugged cast of journeymen film and stage actors from the Boston and New York theatre scene, then by all means do check it out. The film company web site, Farrellmedia, offers clips and more information about the movie. And if you're a fan of independent films shot in offbeat locations, you're in for a treat.
Matte Osian, an outstanding Boston actor and artist, who has appeared in network television, theatrical film and on stage --offers a more rugged portrayal of the ill-fated king than previous efforts, while Kadina Delejalde adds that beautiful extra dimension to the film's finale."
P. Hall | New York, NY USA | 04/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the finest contemporary films based on Shakespeare. Director John Farrell imaginatively updates the setting to today, and the parallels between the military intrigues of Richard II's court and today's dangerous socio-political scene are extraordinary. Wonderful acting plus imaginative camerawork and editing make this one a real winner! Highly recommended!"