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Film: Richard III
Long Live Richard, England's Royal King!

Richard III is a 1995 film adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Loncraine and starring Ian McKellen. It was based on an acclaimed Royal National Theatre stage production by Richard Eyre that also starred McKellen.

The film (like the stage production before it) updates the setting to 1930s-era England, creating an Alternate History where Richard Gloucester (Ian McKellen) seizes power from his ailing brother Edward IV changing the country's leadership into a militaristic Fascist regime, with many overtones of Nazi Germany. It is also notable for making Queen Elizabeth and her family American, both as a way to modernize the resistance the English establishment would have to the marriage, and to invoke the controversial relationship between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson during the historical 1930s.

In addition to McKellen, the cast includes Annette Bening, John Wood, Nigel Hawthorne, Maggie Smith, Robert Downey, Jr., Jim Broadbent, and Kristen Scott Thomas. The movie was a major success with critics and audiences alike. Ian McKellen's screenplay, complete with annotations and guides designed to explain his adaptation process, can be read online. It's an invaluable asset to fans of Shakespeare films.


Tropes relating to this film include:

  • Action Prologue: The movie opens with Richard Gloucester leading an army regiment in a Curb-Stomp Battle against King Henry's mansion stronghold.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Princess Elizabeth (who doesn't appear at all in the Shakespeare play) and Richmond (who doesn't appear until the final act) are both given expanded roles and additional dialogue in this movie, so as to better incorporate them into the story.
    • Tyrell, who only serves as the executioner of the princes in the original play, becomes Richard's Dragon in the film.
  • Adapted Out: Many smaller characters, such as Queen Margaret and the children of Clarence and Queen Elizabeth are either removed or have their dialogue given to other characters.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: All of Richard's soliloquies (as well as a few asides) are delivered directly to the camera. Also, after shooting Richard, Richmond also begins to glance into the camera and smile, implying he may not be the perfect replacement he has been set up as.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name / Putting on the Reich: Both extensively used:
    • Richard and his followers grow increasingly nazi/fascist-like with each of their moves towards greater usurpation of power.
    • Richard's coronation scene was straight out of Triumph of the Will.
    • Quite a bit of the military equipment used by Richard's followers is basically a nazi-fied version of British gear and weaponry from the era. Cleverly enough, some uniform elements of Richard's faction take inspiration from those of the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley during the 1930s. And instead of a swastika, the white circle on Richard's flag displays his heraldic boar.
    • In this version, Edward IV is heavily implied to be Edward VIII, while his wife Elizabeth and the rest of the Woodvilles are played by Americans, suggesting Wallis Simpson. The Earl of Richmond and Princess Elizabeth rather resemble Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Maggie Smith, as the Duchess of York (who is combined with Queen Margaret in this movie), is a dead ringer for Queen Mary, Edward VIII's mother.
  • Day of the Jackboot: When Richard takes over.
  • Dieselpunk: Lives and breathes this trope, both in an elegant and gruff way. Probably the most British-flavoured rendition of the trope ever put on screen. It's not limited to the costumes, vehicles and atmosphere: Even the individual architecture that's supposed to be really historical - e.g. the Tower of London - is portrayed by shots of purely period public buildings, often 1930s functionalist structures. Ian McKellen himself referred to the production design of the film as "being rooted in a semi-mythical portrayal of the late interwar UK".
  • Driven to Suicide: Richard jumps off a building at the same time as Richmond shoots him.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome/Go Out with a Smile/Mood Whiplash: Richard's Disney Villain Death, accompanied by "I'm Sittin' On Top of the World" by Al Jolson.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Richmond is played by Dominic West (in his film debut, no less).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The Movie. Being based off of Richard III (a play that makes a point of vilifying one side of a brutal Grey And Grey Civil War and whitewashing the other) made it inevitable, but the film goes beyond. Rather than turning Richard into a medieval tyrant, he gets turned into a Nazi.
  • Large Ham: Richard himself, though it's played with at times and McKellen manages to give him enough gravitas to avoid making him too cartoonish. While he's still the mean-spirited hunching choleric and almost-devilic schemer of Shakespeare's play even in this adaptation, in many scenes, he's also very mischievous, pompous and cheeky in an Affably Evil way.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Richard's most famous line is given a particularly clever twist to fit the Setting Update. Rather than being knocked off his horse and calling for another, he's in a jeep that gets its wheels stuck, causing him to lament not being on a horse that could escape the situation.
  • Scenery Porn: Both the sets and the costumes received Oscar nominations.
  • Setting Update: To the 1930s United Kingdom, with the spectre of fascism looming over Europe at the time paralleled with Richard's unscrupulous rise to power.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The movie ends with a grinning Richard III plunging to his death to Jolson's "Sitting On Top of the World".
  • Vader Breath: McKellen breathing through a gas mask in the opening scene. According to McKellen, this was intended to invoke the rhythm of Iambic Pentameter.
  • Woolseyism: McKellen modernized some of Shakespeare's dialogue, removing archaisms such as "thy" or "thou" and clarifying passages that relate to the Henry VI trilogy.

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