Television: Great Performances, "The Hollow Crown: Richard II"

I have a ridiculous amount of backlog on my DVR, but of course I had to make room in my schedule for some Shakespeare.

It's been ages since I've read the histories, but Shakespeare—like any playwright—is meant to be seen rather than read anyway, and I'd actually never seen Richard II performed. So I have nothing to compare this to aside from a very wide range of other of Shakespeare's plays which have undergone so many different treatments on stage and screen that it is impossible to rank them in any useful fashion. I, for one, am no purist; I enjoy seeing Shakespeare done in any number of ways and venues, from the traditional to the modernized, etc. That is the lovely thing about theatre. It lives and breathes and is different each and every time it is performed.

And so this take on Richard II . . . It was lushly produced, quite beautifully done. (And Ben Whishaw is fair to look upon, yea, even with those hairs that spring forth from his cheeks, which is saying something because I generally prefer my men without beards.) I thought the whole St. Sebastian insinuation was interesting. Richard's seeming distaste for blood, his forced renunciation bringing on a bloody mess . . . I suppose Shakespeare meant to suggest this was the very beginning of the Wars of the Roses, though I'm not sure if that's exactly true (and it's not as if Shakespeare was ever so worried about accuracy).

I do always wonder whenever big names are pulled in to do some of the Bard's work whether it distracts or detracts a bit from the actual story or play. One cannot help thinking something like, "Filch!" or whatever when one recognizes a well-known face. I do find it a bit distracting myself. Whishaw I do not know all that well, and so I did not find my attention drawn too much away by him, and Patrick Stewart ("Sejanus!") bowed out early enough, but I wonder how I'll feel about Hiddleston once I pick up with Henry IV. Though God knows when I'll get around to it.

In any case, it appears it is the season for Richard II, since David Tennant is performing the titular role for RSC. I'll admit I am looking forward to that one, and I did enjoy Tennant in Much Ado, so maybe not all known actors are so distracting when performing Shakespeare . . . Some are more diverting than distracting, perhaps, and that is the sign of a very good actor indeed.

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