Richard III: How are McKellen’s aims achieved?

"To make Shakespeare accessible". Ian McKellen aimed for this when making the film Richard III and to many degrees, the aim was achieved.

Shakespeare at the time and even now still seems like a foreign language to many minds. From its deep and complicated plot development, and the archaic English that was its makeup, to the strange and old-fashioned medieval settings and costumes, a Shakespeare film of that time was not something very appealing to the public. McKellen’s approach to making the film Richard III eliminated many of these prejudices people had of Shakespeare movies.

The historical “authenticity” of costume and setting was something that was removed from McKellen’s Richard III. To many, the authenticity of costume and setting made it confusing, old fashioned, and distant. It made the story seem like a history lesson, rather than the drama Shakespeare intended. By placing the story of Richard III in a modern setting of the 1930s, it eliminates many of these problems and allows the public to relate the film to their era. (i. e. Hitler, Hussein) It also made the story much more clear as you could recognize who was royalty, aristocrat, etc.

The choice of the 1930s setting helped set up the background information needed to understand the political turmoil. The general populace would not have much knowledge of the period preceding the play, which is vital to understand the actions and decisions of various characters. McKellen used the period preceding WWII where a tyrant like Richard III could have overtaken Britain and gave Richard parallel motives to Hitler, Mussolini, etc.

Another problem McKellen had to fix was the length of the actual script and the number of characters. To make it appeal to the public, you couldn’t make the film the several hours that was needed to perform the whole script. The fast paced life of today doesn’t allow enough time for that Besides this problem, the original script of Richard III is very slow moving and not very action packed, which is one of the reasons why so many complain that Shakespeare is “boring.” . McKellen therefore cut irrelevant scenes out, cut out many pages of speeches and was left with an accelerated, quality, and much more compacted Richard III. To make the film simpler and to allow for more attention on the main characters, McKellen cut out many of the characters (Clarence’s family, Queen Elizabeth’s children from first marriage, Scrivener, etc) that were in the script so the film could, “Throw emphasis and clarity onto the main action” - McKellen.

McKellen sought to revive interest in the great works of Shakespeare. He understood the problems facing Shakespeare plays and was one of many that sparked the large demand for Shakespeare films today.

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Mann Erudite – Essays on Literary Works