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William Shakespeare's Richard the Second
2001 - NR - 93 Mins.
Director: John Farrell
Written By: John Farrell, from the play by William Shakespeare
Starring: Matte Osian, Kadina Delejalde, Ellen Zachos, Tom Turbiville, Barry Smith
Review by: James O'Ehley
Official Site:

To be or . . . er, sorry, wrong play.
Watching this adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays is like watching somebody’s home video recording of a community theatre production.

'Richard the Second'? A prequel to the better-known Richard III (“now is the winter of our discontent” and so forth)? Not quite – Richard the Second actually sets up the background for the various Henry plays.

To be honest, I didn’t really know of 'Richard the Second' until a DVD screener arrived in my mail. (I suppose that if my old English Lit professor ever read this review she would want me to return my degree . . .)

Not entirely my fault though: 'Richard the Second' isn’t exactly one of Shakespeare’s better-known plays. Except for this movie, the Internet Movie Database lists only one other film adaptation, namely one made for TV in the late 1970s.

Incidentally, the play itself didn’t prove to be too much of a hit with Queen Elizabeth I upon its first performance in 1595. Dealing with the titular Richard the Second who becomes hugely unpopular after raising taxes to fund a war in Ireland, the play came soon after Elizabeth I had to deal with an attempt to remove her from the throne of England. In the end King Richard II is overthrown by a nobleman whose property he has confiscated.

In this adaptation the setting is updated to more modern times: all the actors wear U.S. military uniforms from WWII era to the type of camouflage outfits they wear nowadays. To be honest the effect is a bit jarring at times. The film was shot in its entirety at an old deserted Civil War fort near Boston, which makes for striking locations of a vaguely post-apocalyptic nature.

Unlike more recent Shakespearean film adaptations updated to a contemporary setting, this particular idea works rather well. Shakespeare may not be banned by some governments as Aristophanes was (this ancient playwright’s work was banned as recently as the 1960s in Greece under a military dictatorship - more than two thousand years later!), but the Bard is still relevant to our times. At times I felt that maybe a more Latin American or African setup would have been more apt – besides there isn’t that much a difference between absolute monarchies and military dictatorships in principle, now is there?

Unfortunately this production suffers from a severe lack of budget. Shot on video, the sound and image quality varies from scene to scene, ranging from the dreadful to the merely acceptable. The movie is simply too ambitious for its own good, and when it strays into action movie territory (no, they didn’t exactly have gunfights in Shakespeare’s time, but in this movie they do) the lack of budget becomes painfully noticeable.

Ultimately 'Richard the Second' isn’t exactly worth one’s time, unless you need a refresher for an English Lit exam and you don’t exactly feel like rereading the thing again. However, one does wish that someone would supply its makers with loads of money for a decent remake one day – there is definitely some talent and creativity on display here. Now such a movie I’d definitely want to see . . .
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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