Last night, via i-player (a wonderful institution, especially because we can get it on our living-room TV) I caught up with the new BBC production of Richard II – the first of “The Hollow Crown” series of Shakespeare’s history plays. Maybe it was because it was a wonderful production, or maybe it is because my ear is now more attuned to verse, it made total sense to me – I knew who was who and what was going on, although I’ve never seen this play before and didn’t know the history.
Ben Wishaw was marvellously camp and Jesus-like as Richard. The scene where he reluctantly gives up the crown was a marvel.
And Rory Kinnear was terrific as Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster after the death of
Jean-Luc Picard John of Gaunt. Except that he seemed to have eyes that were different colours. I checked Google Images and Rory Kinnear doesn’t appear to have different coloured eyes, so what was that about?
The scene where Bolingbroke’s forces approach the castle where Richard is holed up, and Richard is sitting on the ramparts in a pointy gold helmet, made me think, inevitably, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If Richard had screamed “Fetchez la vache!” it would not have been out of character. And the bit where Richard and his bishop wade out of the sea, alone, returning from the Irish wars, was somewhat unbelievable – they needed an armed retinue at the very least.
There aren’t so many really memorable quotations in this play, apart from the wonderful “this sceptred isle” speech delivered movingly by Patrick Stewart. And the bit about the hollow crown itself:
“Within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and mocking at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks”