Has there ever been a writer as timeless as William Shakespeare? His work is so brilliant and the subjects of each of his plays are so timeless, they can be bent and twisted and put into any place or time and still retain the same message. The betrayal of Macbeth, the true love of Romeo and Juliet, the racism of Othello – these are all topics as relevant today as they were centuries ago. Perhaps the one that strikes me as being the most relevant is Richard III, because let’s face it – since the beginning of time, the driving force behind almost everything is either money or power. Richard III is timeless because of the cutthroat antics of the lead, and the fact that despite being a dastardly coward, he is insanely charismatic and audiences find a connection with him somehow. Now let’s take Ian McKellen, one of the greatest actors living today, and with him in the lead role, there isn’t much else to say apart from the fact that this will be an absolutely amazing film.
Let’s just say this film went above my expectations and far beyond. McKellen is one actor that can walk into a room, scratch his head and leave and it will still be better acting than most performers today. Giving him the juiciest role Shakespeare ever wrote was probably the wisest choice anyone could make, and it is clear McKellen felt the same – this was a passion project of the man, and remains the only film he’s produced and co-written yet. One can call him an egotist for giving himself extra material to show off his talents, but the fact is that everything Sir Ian does and says on the screen has to be attributed to The Bard. McKellen and Loncraine simply put it in a more modern setting.
I can go on and speak about the performances, and even though people like Robert Downey Jr. and Annette Bening give great performances that rank amongst their best, let’s be honest – they can’t hold a candle to McKellen. Similar to how Cate Blanchett just dominated the screen in Blue Jasmine, chewing scenery left and right and performing to the brink of insanity, McKellen does the same, all the while limping. It is an absolutely mind-blowing performance by one of the best actors in history, and along with Gods and Monsters and Apt Pupil make a mindblowing triple-feature.
The film might not be the best directed (mainly because I believe everyone involved was just banking on McKellen’s performance), but I must say Loncraine did a great job transporting the story from the 15th century to the 1930s. All sorts of World War II and Nazi imagery are brought in, and it may not be visually dazzling, but of course it doesn’t have to be – a grittier, darker film suits the material much more than a big-budget production.
Overall, this was a fantastic film. Dark, gritty and strangely charming. Ian McKellen has never been better, and I doubt he will top this performance any time soon. I hope he doesn’t have to, because this would be a worthy career-defining role for him.