John Farrell’s “Richard the Second” is the second New England-anchored digital production in as many years to bring a difficult Shakespeare drama to the big screen (last year saw the Rhode Island-based production of Titus Andronicus). Whether this is the start of a trend is too early to say, but let’s hope so…”Richard the Second” offers a bold and imaginative interpretation of the little-seen and little-appreciated Shakespeare drama.
As with Titus and several recent Hollywood-inspired Shakespeare adaptations, this film has been physically updated to modern times. The result is, as always, jarring in providing endless evidence on the timeless quality of Shakespeare’s plays. With this go-round, “Richard the Second” finds its royal court and rival regents wearing battle fatigues and sporting Uzis as they travel through lush, overgrown wooded areas…offering guerrilla cinema in all possible aspects, it would seem. The production was shot primarily at an abandoned Civil War-era fort on an island in Boston Harbor, offering a cold and towering central edifice which balances nicely off the heated intrigue of the story.
In capturing the tale of an indecisive king whose poor judgments and talent for making enemies leads to his fall from the throne, “Richard the Second” provides a stunning tale of how not to run a kingdom. By waging costly wars financed by excessive taxation on an increasingly disgruntled population, coupled with the foolish banishment of vengeful onet-time friends who join forces with other powerful enemies, the story reads as a textbook for disaster whose lessons transcend time and geography. Much of the strength in the film’s political struggle is fueled by Matte Osian’s rugged performance as Richard. The actor presents a strong mix of smug self-assurance as the crown rests on his head and tragic, belated redemption once his kingdom is lost and he is locked away in a dark dungeon. Rarely has a rise and fall been captured with such powerful depth and scope.
Speaking of dungeons, those sequences are quite jolting. The fort which served as the principal location lacked electricity, forcing the production company to shoot the sequences with illumination from torches. The result offers a grimy yet hypnotic visual power which brilliantly captures the despair and doom that faces the fallen king (and, of course, this would approximate the darkness which the real Richard experienced in his final days…not a pretty picture, to be sure).
“Richard the Second” has begun to gain attention in the technology trade media for its production history. The film was originally shot in 1″ analog with an Ikegami ITC 730A, but post-production was delayed due to problems in raising funds for an online linear edit and video-to-film transfer. However, thanks to digital tools such as QuickTime 4 and MediaCleaner Pro, “Richard the Second” was able to sail through relatively inexpensive post-production waters. The long-awaited and much-ballyhooed promised of digital cinema is clearly evident in the creation of this film…and the promise of a great filmmaker in director John Farrell’s work is also apparent in the fruits of his imaginative labors. “Richard the Second” is one of the finest contemporary Shakespeare films.