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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice