In 1930s England, a bloody civil war ends with the Lancastrian King Henry VI and his son Prince Edward murdered by Richard, Duke of Gloucester of the rival House of York. Richard's elder brother Edward, Duke of York becomes King Edward IV, while the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, is exiled in France.
Hungry for power, Richard is determined to make himself King, and pits King Edward against his brother, the Duke of Clarence, who is imprisoned in the Tower of London. Meanwhile, Richard deceives and marries Prince Edward's widow Lady Anne Neville.
Queen Elizabeth intercedes on Clarence's behalf and Edward IV spares his life. However, after sowing doubt and casting suspicion on the Queen and her brother Lord Rivers, Richard commissions James Tyrrell to execute Clarence, allegedly in compliance with the King's death warrant, under the pretext that the king's stay of execution was delivered too late.
Richard informs Edward of Clarence's death at a meeting with Prime Minister Lord Hastings, and the King dies from a stroke. As Edward's sons are underage, Richard becomes Regent, taking the title of Lord Protector with the support of the ambitious and corrupt Duke of Buckingham.
In order to undermine his rivals for the throne, Richard has Rivers assassinated and uses his sordid death to damage the Queen's reputation while simultaneously casting doubt on the legitimacy of her sons. Reluctant to support Richard's claim to the crown, Hastings' opposition so enrages Richard that he accuses Hastings of treason, inciting his loyalists to summarily execute him by hanging. Having made an example of his only vocal opponent, Richard persuades the Lord Mayor of London and members of the House of Lords to acknowledge his claim and crown him King.
Following his coronation Richard, now King Richard III, seeks to make his throne secure. He employs Tyrrell to murder the princes, after failing to convince Buckingham to do so. Aware that his rival claimant the Earl of Richmond intends to marry his niece Elizabeth, he instructs Sir William Catesby to spread rumours that Lady Anne is ill, intending to marry Elizabeth himself. Lady Anne is found dead sometime later from a drug overdose.
Impatient for the promised reward for his loyalty, Buckingham demands the lands of the murdered Lord Rivers. Richard dismisses this in a high-handed manner, with the line "I am not in a giving vein". Buckingham, also disturbed by the murders of the princes and Hastings, flees to meet Richmond, but is later captured and executed by Tyrrell under Richard's orders.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Richmond gathers supporters, among them the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard's mother, the Duchess of York. They are joined by Air Force commander Lord Stanley, the only character among Richard's confidantes who resists donning the Lord Protector's fascist uniform. Richmond marries Elizabeth and unites both Houses.
With his hold on power slipping and the legitimacy of his claims to the crown weakened, Richard prepares for the final battle against the rebels, who plan a seaborne invasion and an advance on the capital. Richard's troops, assembling in a marshalling yard, are attacked from the air, revealing Lord Stanley's involvement in the rebel cause.
The two armies meet soon after at a ruined Battersea Power Station. Richard and Richmond seek each other out, but when his vehicle stalls Richard flees into the structure. Pursued by Richmond, Richard is forced to exit on to exposed metal beams, high above the burning battlefield. Cornered by Richmond and refusing to surrender, Richard falls into the fiery inferno with a triumphant grin.Ian McKellen as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III
Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth
Jim Broadbent as the Duke of Buckingham
Robert Downey, Jr. as Rivers
Kristin Scott Thomas as Lady Anne Neville
Maggie Smith as the Duchess of York
John Wood as King Edward IV
Nigel Hawthorne as George, Duke of Clarence
Adrian Dunbar as Sir James Tyrrel
Edward Hardwicke as Lord Stanley
Tim McInnerny as Sir William Catesby
Jim Carter as Lord Hastings
Dominic West as Henry, Earl of Richmond (the future King Henry VII)
Trés Hanley as Lord Rivers' mistress
Roger Hammond as Archbishop Thomas
Donald Sumpter as Robert Brackenbury
Bill Paterson as Richard Ratcliffe
Kate Steavenson-Payne as Princess Elizabeth
Christopher Bowen as Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales
Matthew Groom as Prince Richard of York
Marco Williamson as Edward of York, Prince of Wales
Edward Jewesbury as King Henry VI
Michael Elphick as Second murderer
Stacey Kent as Singer at the celebratory ball
The film's concept was based on a stage production directed by Richard Eyre for the Royal National Theatre, which also starred McKellen. The production was adapted for the screen by McKellen and directed by Richard Loncraine.
The film is notable for its unconventional use of famous British landmarks, often using special effects to move them to new locations. The transformed landmarks used include the following:St Pancras railway station is relocated to Westminster and becomes King Edward's seat of government.
Battersea Power Station is relocated to the coast of Kent and is portrayed as a bombed-out military base.
Bankside Power Station, rather than the actual Tower of London, is the prison where Clarence is imprisoned. At the time of filming, the station was partially derelict, before its current use as the Tate Modern.
Brighton Pavilion is relocated to a coastal clifftop as King Edward's country retreat.
Senate House of the University of London is Richard's seat of government and is used for interior and exterior scenes. The famous art deco facade and clock of Shell Mex House is also featured in exterior shots.
The visually rich production features various symbols, uniforms, weapons, and vehicles that draw openly from the aesthetic of the Third Reich as depicted in Nazi propaganda (especially Triumph of the Will) and war films. At the same time, obvious care is put into diluting and mixing the Nazi references with recognizable British and American uniform styles, props, and visual motifs. The resulting military uniforms, for instance, range from completely Allied in cases of positive characters to almost completely SS in the case of Richard's entourage. Another example of this balanced approach to production design is the choice of tanks for battle scenes between Richmond's and Richard's armies: both use Soviet tanks (T-55s and T-34s respectively), mixed with German, American, and British World War II-era vehicles. To convey the out-of-place nature of the common-born Queen Elizabeth, she is reconfigured as an American socialite similar to Wallis Simpson, and she and her brother are treated with marked disapproval by members of the Court.
Perhaps the play's most famous line—"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"—was re-contextualized by the more recent setting; during the climactic battle, Richard's jeep becomes stuck, hung up on a pile of debris, and his lament is cast as a plea for a mode of transport with legs rather than wheels.
The film enlarges the role of the Duchess of York considerably by combining her character with that of Queen Margaret, as compared with Laurence Olivier's 1955 film version of the play, in which the Duchess hardly appeared at all and Queen Margaret was completely eliminated. The roles of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, and Dorset are combined into Rivers. The death scenes are shown rather than implied as in the play, and changed to suit the time (Hastings is hanged rather than beheaded) and historical accuracy (Clarence dies by having his throat cut in a bathtub, rather than being drowned in a wine barrel). Lord Rivers—who usually dies offstage (or, in the case of Olivier's film, offscreen)—is impaled by the device of a sharp spike spurting up from the bottom of his mattress while he lies in bed during sex with a woman in a hotel room. Each character's pre-death monologue is also removed, except that of Clarence and Buckingham.
McKellen himself stated on his website:
When you put this amazing old story in a believable modern setting, it will hopefully raise the hair on the back of your neck, and you won't be able to dismiss it as 'just a movie' or, indeed, as 'just old-fashioned Shakespeare'.
Academy AwardsArt Direction (Tony Burrough)
Best Costumes (Shuna Harwood)
Best British Film
Best Actor – Ian McKellen
Best Costumes (won)
Best Production Design (won)
Berlin Film Festival
Silver Bear for Best Director – Richard Loncraine (won)
Golden Bear (Nominated)
Golden Globe Awards
Best Actor – Drama (Ian McKellen) (nominated)
Richard III received universal acclaim from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating, with an average score of 8.1/10. Empire magazine gave the film 4/5 stars, referring to it as "fascinating" and "cerebral". Jeffrey Lyons stated that the film was "mesmerizing", while Richard Corliss in Time referred to the film as "cinematic". Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that "the picture never stops coming at you". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars (out of four) and included the film among his Great Movies list.
The soundtrack to Richard III was released on February 27, 1996.
"Come Live With Me" is a 1930s-style swing song, performed by Stacey Kent at the ball celebrating Edward IV's triumph. It is an original composition by Trevor Jones with anachronistic lyrics adapted from Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd To His Love", a poem actually written a century after the events depicted in the play.