Blu-ray Review: Richard III (1995) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Enthusiasts of Shakespeare adaptations, especially non-traditional ones, will revel in the 1995 version of Richard III. Originally written in the late 16th century, Richard here is the power-mad leader of a fascist England circa 1930s. Ian McKellen leads a highly distinguished cast, beginning the film as the Duke of Gloucester and eventually claiming the throne by sheer devious force. McKellen played the role onstage and here is credited as co-screenwriter with director Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon, Firewall, The Special Relationship). Boutique label Twilight Time has issued this Richard III on Blu-ray, making it available as a strictly limited edition (3,000 copies only).

Richard III cover (215x280).jpgWhile McKellen’s mesmerizing interpretation of King Richard III is the main attraction, the supporting cast is up to the challenge of reimaging the Bard’s play. Kristin Scott Thomas, in particular, stands out as Lady Anne Neville. The cast also includes a commanding Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth, Robert Downey Jr. as her brother Rivers, Jim Broadbent as Henry Stafford (Duke of Buckingham), and Nigel Hawthorne as Richard’s brother, Duke of Clarence. Downey is a particular treat, contributing loopy, unpredictable wit to the otherwise dry proceedings. Shakespeare’s authentic language is retained throughout, so anyone allergic to iambic pentameter will have to swallow hard. But the Oscar-nominated costume design (by Shuna Harwood) and art direction (by Tony Burrough) bring something new and fresh to the tale.

Actually, back in ’95 it turned out to be a tough sell from a commercial standpoint. But critically the film left its mark. Still, this is going to appeal primarily to Shakespeare buffs. Not being well versed in the various adaptations of Richard III, I am at a great disadvantage in terms of comparing this take to any other. What Loncraine seems to do most admirably is streamline a very lengthy play into an under-two-hour, relatively concise film. His sense of storytelling is smoothly economical. The never-dull production is elaborate, with visceral staging that makes the most of highly stylized camera angles. It’s cinematic, not stodgy and stage-bound in the slightest. As Richard slowly, deliberately eliminates his competition and enemies, the film develops a hypnotic pull. It’s also cold and calculating enough that it remains at arm’s length, emotionally detached.

Richard III ian mckellen (380x238).jpgTwilight Time’s Blu-ray offers a solid transfer of Peter Biziou’s (9 ½ Weeks, In the Name of the Father, The Truman Show) cinematography (full color, by the way, as the black-and-white stills here are purely promotional). The source materials were in great shape as there are no noticeable distractions in terms of debris or other flaws. The lossless audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and, although the mix is inherently front-centric, it all sounds great. Trevor Jones’ inventive score is available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track.

Though Twilight Time’s releases have become much more special feature-heavy than they were in earlier days, Richard III is a pretty bare bones. Besides the isolated score, we have a theatrical trailer and film historian Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay. Interested parties should proceed to Screen Archives, Twilight Time’s official distributor, while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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