Friday, June 12, 2020

The "Prayer-Book" scene in Loncraine's Richard III

Richard III. Dir. Richard Loncraine. Perf. Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey, Jr., and Maggie Smith. 1995. DVD. United Artists Pictures, 1995.

In the third act of Richard III, Shakespeare pulls back the curtain to show us the political power of the photo opportunity. Buckingham has been trying to rally support for Richard as king, but it hasn't been going that well. He advises Richard to be found with a prayer book in his hand, conferring with two priests. That will make him appear to be Christian, holy, and only concerned with spiritual matters, not with power.

It's all show. Richard has no religious feeling whatsoever, but he thinks he can fool everyone into thinking he does, which will be good for his political career.

The images to the right show the way Loncraine decided to show this scene. It's a brilliant, nicely-layered way to show how a photo opportunity like this has no real substance. Not only is Richard only portraying an interest in religion that he does not actually feel, it isn't even a religious book that he's using as a prop! I haven't been able to make out just what the dust cover on the book says, but it looks like it's a secular novel. Once the dust cover is removed, it looks like a prayer book . . . but its interior is secular, not sacred.

Here's what Buckingham says when he's advising Richard in this photo opportunity:
The mayor is here at hand: intend some fear;
Be not you spoke with, but by mighty suit:
And look you get a prayer-book in your hand,
And stand betwixt two churchmen, good my lord;
For on that ground I'll build a holy descant:
And be not easily won to our request . . . . (III.viii)
More of the scene follows in the clip below. I love how Sir Ian delivers the final line of this clip: "I'm not made of stone."


I'm posting this on Friday, June 12, 2020. On Monday, June 8, 2020, the President of the United States walked across Lafayette Square to hold a Bible up in front of St. John's Church. Protests over the death of George Floyd were happening all over the country . . . including in Lafayette Square . . . at the time.

Careful readers know that I am interested in talking about how Shakespeare is relevant. They will also know that there are times when I wish that Shakespeare was not relevant. 

Links: The Film at IMDB.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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