The Hollow Crown: Richard III (2016)

A powerful, fitting end to the BBC’s “Hollow Crown” series. Not since the first such episode, the adaptation of “Richard II”, has the series’ name seemed more appropriate, as Richard III acts as the ultimate, perhaps inevitable product of a feudal society where the nobility has recognised the crown as “hollow”, not divinely ordained, but instead something that can be seized by one with the strength, wit, or any means to do so.

Richard III, as played here by Benedict Cumberbatch, certainly has the means to do so. Cumberbatch avoids leaning too much on camp or moustache-twirling villainy, instead emphasising Richard III’s great skill in language (better than Tom Hiddleston did as “Henry V”, a king with a similar skill in wordplay). Richard III’s many diabolical plans actually working seems completely believable and well-founded in this adaptation, with Cumberbatch presenting a Richard III capable of seducing, manipulating, and ably convincing others. The other component to Richard III’s rise being so believable is how this film functions as the finale to all the preceding films, or episodes. Ever since Bolingbroke (Henry IV, as he was later styled) exposed the hollowness of the crown, ever since he seized the throne, the times have gotten increasingly violent and more suited to Machiavellian scheming. To expand on that point, I’ll link here my review of the play itself, where I go into more detail on what Richard III represents in the context of Shakespeare’s historical cycles.

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As for the film itself, it’s full of great performances (just like all the other entries in this series), high production value, and all the trappings of prestige drama. It is, however, unfortunately plagued by some technical issues of earlier “Hollow Crown” films, namely some extremely noticeable ADR with accompany high-pitched sound effects. Quite distracting at times, most notably with Richmond’s lines, and some of Richard’s. Some touches I did like in the film were the ending shot (a very powerful and appropriate capstone for the series), and the way Richard III’s anxious tapping was integrated into the musical score in a very impressive montage-esque sequence.

A very fitting end for the “Hollow Crown” series, both in terms of content and quality. I give it four murderous lackeys, and a proffered dagger.

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