The Weekend's Viewing: The Hollow Crown: Richard II, Sat, BBC2
Derek Jacobi on Richard II: Shakespeare Uncovered, Sat, BBC2

 

"For a long time, I was interested in Richard II as a Michael Jackson figure," said Rupert Goold in Shakespeare Uncovered, the Derek Jacobi programme that immediately followed his production of Richard II.

Both were sexually ambiguous, he explained, both playful, capricious divas. And both had a monkey. The phrasing of Goold's remark suggested that he'd eventually moved on from that approach but I'm glad to say the monkey made the final cut and Ben Wishaw's initial appearance as the king – soft-voiced, coquettish and demanding – made it look as if their early conversations about the character had left some kind of residue behind. Goold, meanwhile, had moved on to Saint Sebastian: in an early scene he had Richard look on as Bushy, a proto pre-Raphaelite, put the finishing touches to a painting of the saint. And he finished with Richard himself unwillingly re-enacting that martyrdom as he's murdered with a crossbow.

This first film in the The Hollow Crown – the BBC's new adaptation of Shakespeare's history plays – was an oddly and specifically mixed affair, thrillingly intense and compelling when indoors and always on the edge of provoking a giggle when outside. The problem is addressed by the Chorus in Henry V. It's simply easier to obey his instruction ("Into a thousand parts divide one man/ And make imaginary puissance") when you're looking at a stage than when you're looking at a real landscape. Six actors can summon an army if the ground they stand on is confined but when they're marooned in open country there's a real danger they'll just look silly, and in opening up the play Goold's direction fairly consistently diminished it. Richard made his defiant speech to Bolingbroke in front of two giant cardboard angels, a cluster of chain-mailed knights looking up at him in a way that unhelpfully reminded you of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Bolingbroke appeared to go into exile in a municipal rowing boat and Richard to wade back from Ireland with only the Bishop of Carlisle as retinue.

Indoors, though, what a thing it was. Wishaw was at the heart of it, naturally, bringing to Richard's slow realisation of his mere mortality a heartbreaking confusion. And here Goold's instincts seemed utterly sure-footed, quietly alerting us to the play's underlying themes (its recurring attention to the gulf that exists between being enthroned and being seated on the ground, for instance) while also bringing an absolutely gripping intimacy to the great set pieces in the play. Patrick Stewart was excellent as John of Gaunt, quivering with patriotic distress as he confronted the King in the "sceptred isle" speech. And Rory Kinnear beautifully captured the necessary double-think of the traitor, who must himself instantly become a scourge of traitors and indignantly defend a divinely appointed sovereignty that he has just exposed as man-made. When the crown passed between them, after Richard's brilliant moment of uncertainty ("Ay, no; no, ay"), there wasn't a shred of the cultural deference that can sometimes afflict Shakespeare on television. It was all hair-raising immediacy, a game of thrones with a script that has already lasted 400 years.

You'd need a fairly capacious appetite for Shakespeare to have flowed seamlessly on into Shakespeare Uncovered, in which Derek Jacobi offered a kind of preface to the play we'd just seen. But those who did watch it would have found a serviceable exploration of the play's themes, the challenge of performing it and its continuing resonance. Wishaw testified to the telling synchronicity that saw his rehearsal of Richard's threat to bedew the grass with "faithful English blood" coincide with Saif al-Islam's threat to do the same to insurrectionary Libyans. Unfortunately, Jacobi then climbed on to his own personal hobby-horse, pushing the case that the Earl of Oxford was the real author of "Shakespeare's" plays, and I lost interest almost immediately. It's the words that matter, not the name on the title page.

Twitter: @tds153

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'