Shakespeare’s Richard III

Richard III
R: Frank R. Benson. B: William Shakespeare (play). K: Will Barker. D: Frank R. Benson, James Berry, Alfred Brydone, Kathleen Yorke. P: Co-operative Cinematograph, Stratford Memorial Theatre Company. UK 1911
Print: BFI

“The Co-operative Cinematograph Company also made similar recordings of Benson‘s Julius Caesar, Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew (and possibly Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor), though these have been lost.
Richard III marks a step forward from Dickson‘s film in that each shot is heralded by a scene – setting intertitle and a very brief citation from Shakespeare‘s text, but the concept remains essentially the same. The thirteen scenes add up to a précis of the whole play, including most of the obvious set-pieces, though these are usually presented in such a compressed and cryptic form that prior familiarity with the text is not so much recommended as essential.
It also draws on a convention first established in Colley Cibber‘s eighteenth-century adaptation, in that it opens with explanatory scenes from ‘Henry VI’ Part III, an approach that would be continued by the two British feature film Richard IIIs, by Laurence Olivier (1955) and Ian McKellen (d. Richard Loncraine, 1995). Benson also adopts now obsolete but then current convention by casting women as the young princes, an inversion of practice in Shakespeare’s time, when women were famously played by boys.
Aside from some wildly gesticulatory performances, presumably exaggerated to compensate for the lack of sound, there is little attempt at cinematic reinvention, aside from two scenes. The murder of the princes in the Tower, described verbally by Shakespeare, is turned into a silent pantomime here (concluding with their murderer Tyrrel’s subsequent remorse), and Richard’s nightmare on the eve of the battle of Bosworth involves a series of dissolves from one accuser to the next. But even here, the camera is rooted to the ground (or, more literally, the stalls), and each scene is presented as a single unbroken shot encompassing the whole stage.”
Michael Brooke

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