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Schlagwort: BBC Two

Benedict Cumberbatch’s outstanding Richard III

Yes, I can hear them. Those critics, those self declared grail holders of every single tradition you can think of in cultural topics. They are about to start their writing software after they had difficulties to survive  “Richard III”, the third part of the second series of “The Hollow Crown”, screened over the last three weekends on BBC Two. After a certain Benedict Cumberbatch got his hands on William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” last year in London’s Barbican those purists had to endure beat after beat: People ran wild! Queued for tickets! Young folks watched a play live on stage for the very first time in their lives! How could that happen? And they still watch it whenever a live recording hits a cinema within reach.

And now it is Shakespeare all over again, three of his plays transformed into three 2 hours films, bringing the bloody Wars of the Roses into living rooms where the audience watched how a tyrant was made. A tyrant in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch whose Richard III took over the screen  step by step in “Henry VI, 2” until he rules it completely in the defining part of “Richard III”. And he does so by luring the audience into his thoughts, his grief and his rage, leaving you wondering if you should be appalled by a cripple who is so terrible deformed or if you should feel sorry for a man who had been an outsider for all his life. The very first scene where Richard has one of his soliloquies speaking directly to the audience reveals not only his violent ambitions. It also shows that he is a vulnerable human being – naked upwards from the waist, a deformed back, a hand he can’t use – desperately trying to find his path where Richard is only true to his only ally, the audience, addressed directly to the camera in his soliloquies.

“I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, deform’d, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce made up – and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me, as I halt by them.” Richard III, I,1

All these different feelings, the cruelty of a man driven by ambition, hate, haunted by the ghosts of the men he killed are brilliantly performed by Benedict Cumberbatch who always is in control of the audience’s attention, who grabs their hands, takes them on a ride and leaves them crying for a king who died on a muddy battlefield. It seems that Benedict’s performance gets better and better with every new role. He clearly is on the height of his abilities, bringing every emotion you can possibly think of to life within the wink of an eye or the move of a hand. And of course his voice talking Shakespeare’s English –  making it vivid and just beautiful.

So may all of those professional critics analyse every letter, every scene, every move of the camera, may they shout at the BBC for tearing Shakespeare down to the small screen and may they shout at Benedict Cumberbatch for whatever reason they may possible find. One of his faults clearly is bringing a new audience to Shakespeare. If this is a fault, I can find more to blame this man for.

Hollow Crown, Shakespeare and Benedict Cumberbatch

No, I’m not a Shakespeare expert. Far from that. Although I can imagine that reading his works might be the same challenge for native English speakers as it is for me reading Goethe or Schiller, getting the meaning of Shakespearian English is indeed a challenge. And it doesn’t get easier watching a play live on stage or a film version.

Unless you have a production team and a broadcaster that have the courage to  throw two hours of a 400 years old play on their audience, including lots of artificial blood, mud, ancient buildings and a very fine crew of actors to bring William Shakespeare’s War of the Roses to life. The second series of BBC Two’s Hollow Crown has all this. And it has a Benedict Cumberbatch whose Richard (soon to be King in the third episode of this series) goes all the way from an awkward but still nice ish teenager – his first appearance is all cheerful – to a cruel villain ready to climb on England’s throne, killing everyone in his way. We watch a young man who loves and adores his father who considers himself as rightful heir to the throne, a young man who from the very first scene always stands a bit aside, limping with a stiff leg and a hunchback – and is mocked for this and the fact that his birth apparently wasn’t an easy one, leaving him disabled into a world full of warriors.

“This word ‘love’ (…) be resident in men like one another, and not in me.
I am myself alone.” Henry VI 3, V,6.

As if this isn’t enough to harm a man, Richard is an eye witness when his younger brother is killed. His shock and fear is the audience’s because it is all written in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and we know that this is the final reason that turns Richard into the monstrous villain.

“And am I then a man to be belov’d?
O monstrous fault to harbour such a thought.” Henry VI 3, III,2

But it is not a villain that is totally disgusting and appalling. Richard is scaring, thrilling, seductive and – surprisingly enough  – funny and you realise you care for a man who admits all he longs for in the end is his brother’s crown no matter how many men he has to kill to reach that aim. But Richard is not only just bad. He’s a man who feels utterly alone since early childhood, a man who knows that he will not find true love because of his deformities.

If it is true that “Richard III” is one of the most demanding roles for any actor, it’s not for Benedict Cumberbatch. Because he brings every tiny detail of that character to life without any visible effort, leaving his audience speechless in front of the telly (or where ever you have the good fortune to catch this film), realising that you haven’t moved since two hours – except for opening your mouth in disbelief, murmuring “Oh my God” every once in a while and totally forgotten that you are watching a Shakespeare play normally considered as difficult stuff.  We don’t know if  William Shakespeare thought of a special actor when writing his play. But maybe you need a Benedict Cumberbatch to make a villain sexy.

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