Sunday, 11 October 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1995: Ian McKellen in Richard III

Ian McKellen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bafta, for portraying the titular character in Richard III.

Richard III is a rather effective adaptation of Shakespeare's play which sets the story in an alternative version of 1930's England.

Well from perhaps Shakespeare's second most famous schemer to arguably his most famous. Richard III was previously adapted by Laurence Olivier in 1955. Olivier's version was in itself a particularly interesting adaptation for him. Unlike his Hamlet, which was cloaked in fog and smoke, or his Henry V with its most unusual way of setting the stage, the artistic license Olivier took with material was perhaps his most subtle, though also his most effective, as I say his Richard III was his most assured example as a director. This version, perhaps knowing that, takes the approach of throwing basically all subtly out of the window in order to tell the story of Shakespeare's most famous villain. McKellen, who also co-wrote this version, seemed to be well aware that successfully bringing something out of the material, without seeming to try to ape Olivier, would be to take the character to a new extreme. Now this is really saying something as Olivier did not exactly soften the nature of the character with his absurd hair, apparently modeled have the same tyrannical theater director that the Big Bad Wolf was modeled after, his blood red costumes, and of course the character itself is written to be be an obvious villain, so where is it that McKellen can go?

Well before we get to that it must be said that McKellen is another master of the language. It comes off his tongue so naturally, and with such ease. McKellen never allows a line to seem laborious or forced no matter how often repeated, Richard's opening line in particular is overused, but McKellen delivery gives it purpose once again. Back to the question of where McKellen can go. Now I would be curious to see a purely subtle approach for the character, that would actually be opposed to the point of the character. McKellen, astonishingly does find somewhere to go though, without going in the opposite direction. This even goes to his other contribution to the film as screenwriter as the film which is considerably shorter than Olivier's version, as well as a simpler telling of the play. In addition though McKellen basically sets the stage for things by having Richard opening action be him crashing a tank through a wall, and personally executing the men who are standing in his brother's way from absolute power. If Oliver's Richard was a 10 out of 10 on the evil scale again where does that leave McKellen to go? well up even more where else? If Olivier's Richard is a 10 level of evil, McKellen takes old Richard all the way to eleven.

McKellen carries himself with purposeful broad strokes in his character from the opening speech which McKellen first delivers all the bluster and proud presentation of a great general promoting his King. Of course this is instantly washed away when he finishes the speech in the bathroom while relieving himself. McKellen brilliantly changes the tone to a biting insult as he makes rapidly evident that Richard has no respect for his brother, and seems him ill fitting for his position as King. In these early scenes we are given Richard's two faces, of sorts, by McKellen particularly in his interactions with his other imprisoned brother as well as sort of with his soon to be wife. What's interesting though about McKellen's performance is that he does not necessarily do a great job of portraying the sides of Richard, but this seems intentional and is extremely effective in creating his version of Richard. McKellen makes it all a bit obvious in terms of the presentation that Richard gives to others as though it is indeed just the act of an evil man trying to look one way or another in order to fulfill whatever purpose that will bring him more power. This probably should not work, but McKellen somehow realizes it in a rather glorious fashion.

McKellen succeeds in just how much he embraces the villainy to the point that he somehow transfers it into such a persuasive personality. With his interactions with his prisoner brother McKellen throws an over audance of warmth, that's a bit too much, though why not buy into since he is giving away so much of it. Then even in his "proposal" to Anne, despite having just murdered her husband, and even making this proposal of his around his corpse McKellen somehow makes it somehow work. Again McKellen would be ridiculous if he wasn't so good in the scene, as the over the top romantic routine that McKellen makes is efficient while being so wholly false. What McKellen does is make Richard a great actor above else since even though you know its fake, he happens to do it so well that they just have to believe it. One of my favorite moments with this is when he rejects then accepts his place of King in a moments notice as McKellen again puts on such an overt show of the quiet and dignified man who will only accept power in the right circumstances, to instantly switch back to his only natural state that of the power hungry mad man using every trick to become King.

McKellen does not use these tricks to define Richard though, because it is evil that McKellen uses to define him. McKellen plays into this as much as he can, even seeming to want his place as King almost just for the suffering he can inflict on others through it. Even before he's become King I love the scenes which he shares with his sister-in-law the queen, since he believes her to hold no threat, McKellen is amazing has he brings such venom to every word as Richard makes it quite plain that he holds her in no regard whatsoever. What McKellen though does with Richard is essentially bring out more and more of Richard's true self the more he gains. It is not that he is being changed by the power, rather McKellen plays it quite bluntly that the more power he gains the more he can simply be himself. Now, like Olivier, Richard's monologues are also addressed to the audience. There's a major difference though where Olivier used them as though Richard was outlining his scheme to us, McKellen does it rather differently. McKellen never focuses a whole scene on this with his performance rather hitting some very specific moments by turning to the audience not unlike the traditional way one breaks the fourth wall in a comedy. This works brilliantly though because McKellen always uses these moments as actual punchlines as though Richard just has to take the moment to tell the audience his disdain for a particular opponent. It must also be said that McKellen also makes them work as punchlines because whenever he does this it is quite hilarious. McKellen, it must be said, is altogether ridiculously entertaining in the role because of his choice to display Richard's evil.

As he rises through the ranks, and is allowed to make himself all the more obvious McKellen let's loose all the more, and only the audience indeed benefits from this as McKellen is so much fun to watch. McKellen plays the completely unabashed evil of the man so well, since he always takes it a measure more. Whether this is just the enjoyment he seems to get from looking at the photos of a dead opponent, his complete lack of concern when his former ally is brutally murdered, or especially his continued mistreatment of the former Queen as he takes some rather uncouth liberties with his farewell kiss only to mockingly laugh at her after she has left. This is a fascinating performance to watch because McKellen proves that a simplification can be a masterstroke when done right. Instead of trying to challenge Olivier with some other reexamination, he places the focus on the character's fiendish nature and runs with it. McKellen never compromises this either even with the two moments in play that potentially give the character some humanity. The first being his nightmare as he is haunted by his victims. McKellen treats this as an unfortunate nuisance, that only acts as a slight bother. Then of course there is his demise, which might be favorite moment out of this entire performance, which is really saying something. That being when this Richard is cornered and certain to face death, McKellen plays it as Richard still refusing to accept any mistakes or blame instead taking just one more chance at villainy by going out his way. That is to fall back into the literal flames of his chaos, and what he has gotten out of this final cheat of sorts is represented through McKellen's absolutely perfect grin as he sinks into the fire. This is a great performance by Ian McKellen as proves taking a character to what might seem like a ludicrous extreme can sometimes turn out beautifully.

61 comments:

Luke Higham said...

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!.

I'm glad you're back Louis. :)

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Ratings & Thoughts on the rest of the cast.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your ratings for Collette in The Sixth Sense and Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry.

L Rime said...

It's not the real Louis. He's been replaced by a robot.

Anonymous said...

Louis, have you changed your thoughts on his Gods and Monsters performance? I thought he gave the best performance of the nominees.

RatedRStar said...

I would like to see Ian return to the Oscars, a third and final nomination would be nice to see, Louis do you reckon he came close to getting an Oscar Nomination for this or you reckon he was easily pushed out?

Matt Mustin said...

I read that he missed out a nomination for this by two votes.

Anonymous said...

Louis: An amazing performance. Which performance do you prefer? McKellen or Olivier?
Also, who would be your cast and director for:
Heat (1950's version)
Laura (2010's version)
The Big Heat (2010's version)
In a Lonely Place (2010's version)
Pickup on South Street (2010's version)

RatedRStar said...

Is there any way of finding out the voting results for the Oscars, because 1935 Best Actor (Muni finished second lol) and 1939 Best Actor (Stewart lost by one vote and Olivier finished last) are the only ones I can find.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

RatedRStar: How did Olivier lose to Rooney?

RatedRStar said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: Most likely because at the time, keep in mind this was 1939, Rooney was probably the bigger film star, Rooney doing his comedy and support stuff in the war could also have helped give some extra votes possibly.

RatedRStar said...

1935 is really odd, Paul Muni finished second place lol wtf? Victor won easily though so there is that =D.

Anonymous said...

RatedRStar: I presume Gable was third in the race, right?

RatedRStar said...

Yes Gable was third =). In the 1935 race it was also Gable who finished third, with Laughton fourth and Tone Fifth.

Michael McCarthy said...

I bet Muni finishing ahead of the Mutiny on the Bounty men was a result of fans of Mutiny on the Bounty being very divisive over which of the three was the strongest. That's also probably why Edmond O'Brien beat out the guys from On the Waterfront in 1954.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Michael: Just a strange sudden question, but what are your thoughts on O'Brien in The Barefoot Contessa? Having seen that and On the Waterfront, he would deserved 4. Regardless, I liked him well enough (maybe a 3.5 or 4 for me). As for the movie, it's one of my favorite movies (currently in top 50)

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Michael: *4th.

Luke Higham said...

Does anyone plan on watching Macbeth or Steve Jobs anytime soon.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Of course =D.

Calvin Law said...

Thoughts on Darlene Cates in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? I LOVE that film and she is my favourite part of it.

Also, I'm going to see Macbeth soon enough so hopefully it won't disappoint :)

Anonymous said...

Luke: Yes.

Calvin Law said...

Also, I saw The Walk. MUCH better than I expected it to be. It's far from perfect and some of it is very, very clich├ęd, especially the side comic relief characters. But overall I thought it was a quite sweet, enjoyable enough ride and the last 30 minutes or so are absolutely heart-pounding.

Levitt: 3.5 (accent was fairly dodgy but he was very endearing. It's one of his performances where he coasts by with his charm, which I do really like, it's far from his career-best work but I liked him in this)
Le Bon: 3
Kingsley: 3
Badge Dale: 3.5

Michael McCarthy said...

I'd give O'Brien a 3 probably. He was fine, but the film itself just didn't do much for me.

Luke: There's a good chance I'll be seeing Steve Jobs Wednesday night.

Anonymous said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: He's a 2,5 for me.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Anonymous and Michael: Not sure what it is about Mankiewicz, but I can't help but love his scripts. Might as well give my ratings for the cast.

Ava Gardner: 4.5 and boarding a 5.
Humphrey Bogart: 4
Edmond O'Brien: 3.5 or 4
Marius Goring: 2.5 or 3 (strange accent, though.)
Valentina Cortese: 2.5
Rossano Brazzi: 2
Elizabeth Sellars: 2.5
Warren Stevens: 2. (The weakest link in the film. Then again, twos (for me) usually mean that the person in question did not have a lot to do, or they were not very impressive. Sadly, it's the latter)

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis: Not sure if you have already given these, but who are your top 10 worst Best Actress and Supporting Actress winners? Along with your top 10 worst Best Actress and supporting Actress nominees (these can include the winners if they were that bad).

Michael Patison said...

Has anybody seen much of Michael Kitchen. If so, what are your thoughts? I'm currently watching Foyle's War and think he's brilliant.

Luke Higham said...

Michael Patison: I saw a few episodes years ago and thought he was good at the very least.

Calvin Law said...

Foyle's War is a brilliant series. Haven't seen it in awhile but there's one particular episode with Charles Dance in it that really sticks out in my mind somehow. I need to revisit it.

Also Kitchen would've been a fantastic George Smiley had Oldman not taken up the role.

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Higham said...

Michael Patison: I've also seen him in The Hanging Gale, which takes place during The Irish Famine and thought he was really good as a land agent.

Anonymous said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: Mary Pickford in Coquette is his Worst Best Actress winner and Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful is his Worst Best Supporting Actress.

Anonymous said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: I don't know if you have seen Black Swan, but Louis doesn't love Portman's performance. She's a 2 for him.

Michael Patison said...

Calvin: Yeah that's one of the first few episodes. Dance is obviously the villain and portrays a Nazi sympathizer

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Anonymous: of those three, I have only seen The Bad and the Beautiful. Well Louis was not a fan of the movie, I loved it. Grahame was the weakest part of the film for me. I would give her a 2. At the moment she is my worst best supporting actress winner. Have not seen Black Swan, but I hope to. Coquette really seems to be a movie that should only be seen if you want to see every Best Actress nominee.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Anonymous: Regardless, I am still interested on who the others would be.

Anonymous said...

ruthiehenshallfan99: In his list of Worst Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette and Lupita Nyong'o would be there.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I think Lupita was only a 2.5, so maybe not her for the worst.

Luke Higham said...

Ruthiehenshallfan99 & Anonymous: Other recent winning performances, that Louis didn't like include Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls.

Luke Higham said...

Robert: She was given that rating.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I'm well aware that Louis dislikes those performances.

Luke Higham said...

*Penelope Cruz

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: :)

Anonymous said...

Luke: You really wanted Rylance to win that Emmy, didn't you?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I wanted to bring up those two to the conversation, though I was quite sure, you would've known by now. :)

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Of Course. I was a bit heartbroken, in the moment, though it's not the end of the world. I'll be even more saddened if he doesn't win the BAFTA.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I think he'll likely win it.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: My favourite in the category every year, rarely ever wins so I'm not particularly hopeful, but I will go into a mini-rant if that trend doesn't change.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Apparently, Mr. Franciosa got angry over the fact that his wife got an Oscar.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: He's a Fool, especially when his wife had far more talent than he ever had.

Anonymous said...

Luke: And then he divorced her only because of that...what an idiot.

Luke Higham said...

PRICK.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Indeed. :) Poor Shelley.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Let's hope your mini-rant never happens, huh?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: :)

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Goodnight. :)

Anonymous said...

Luke: Goodnight. :)

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Bening - 3(She's not all that comfortable with the language but I do think she does a fine job of portraying a believable disgust as well as anguish in her character as Richard's deviousness becomes all the more obvious)

Broadbent - 4(I've always felt Buckingham gets just slightly shortchanged as a character, because I've always found him a fascinating character in his own right, but he gets knocked off so suddenly. Even with that still in place of course Broadbent is very enjoyable in the role presenting a man just as sinister as Richard, but whose able be just a bit more subtle due to his more modest position. I especially love that knowing laugh he and McKellen give each other from time to time.)

Downey - 3(Like Bening he's not wholly comfortable with Shakespeare, but he certainly gives the role a bit more character than he might have otherwise)

Thomas - 3.5(Vast improvement over Bloom actually as she is quite good, in just kinda in some reactionary shots, in conveying the slow corruption of Anne through Richard)

Smith - 3.5(She's fine in her early moments, but is great in bringing the needed intensity and passion in the scene where she finally confronts Richard over his foul deeds)

Hawthorne - 3.5(Brings a great deal of color to his few scenes as the character, and makes his death more substantial than it might have been)

West - 3(He's just fine in his background scenes but he's fantastic with that final reaction shot of his as it seems like he basically can't help but laugh at Richard's antics)

For some reason it feels like I've covered them before.

L Rime:

That's nonsense....errror...errror..

Anonymous:

No.

RatedRStar:

He was likely close, although I don't believe that two votes claim simply since where was that information procured from? He had that Globe though and the film received some recognition from the Academy so he probably was sixth since Jones's film was wholly ignored.

They released the totals until 1939 I believe.

Anonymous:

It's a razor thin margin between the two, and I could go either way between the two.

Calvin:

Cates - (Her performance certainly was a risk in the film, but Cates beyond simply the starting point of the casting. She gives a very strong and assured performance actually. She's very moving in the role since she does not allow any caricature about the woman showing the honest vulnerabilities in her, but also a palatable strength and love at the same time. She's the best part of the film if you ask me.)

By the way best Buckingham? Broadbent or Richardson.

Louis Morgan said...

ruthiehenshallfan99:

Winners:

1. Mary Pickford - Coquette
2. Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich
3. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
4. Hillary Swank - Million Dollar baby
5. Katherine Hepburn - Morning Glory
6. Olivia de Havilland - To Each His Own
7. Elizabeth Taylor - BUtterfield 8
8. Reese Witherspoon - Walk The Line
9. Katherine Hepburn - On Golden Pond
10. Grace Kelly - The Country Girl

I actually don't really mind about half of them though.

1. Gloria Grahame - The Bad and the Beautiful
2. Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
3. Patrica Arquette - Boyhood
4. Anne Revere - National Velvet
5. Jennifer Hudson - Dream Girls
6. Miyoshi Umeki - Sayonara
7. Sandy Dennis - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
8. Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener
9. Renee Zellweger - Cold Mountain
10. Kim Basinger - L.A. Confidential

Nominees:

1. Mary Pickford - Coquette
2. Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
3. Jane Alexander - The Great White Hope
4. Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich
5. Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
6. Bette Davis - Mr. Skeffington
7. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
8. Diana Wynyard - Cavalcade
9. Jennifer Jones - Duel in the Sun
10. Lynn Fontanne - The Guardsman

1. Leslie Browne - The Turning Point
2. Joan Lorring - The Corn is Green
3. Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
4. Gloria Grahame - The Bad and the Beautiful
5. Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
6. Natalie Portman - Closer
7. Patrica Arquette - Boyhood
8. Anne Revere - National Velvet
9. Anne Revere - The Song of Bernadette
10. Anne Revere - Gentleman's Agreement

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis: Thoughts and (if not given already) ratings on Pickford, Roberts, de Havilland, Taylor, Kelly, Wynyard, Hathaway, and Portman (Closer)?

Surprised not to see Wycherly on here.

As for me, here are my ratings so far.

Gloria Grahame: 2 (at the moment, she is the worst winner, but not the worst nominee. I don't think she was bad, but I will say her role was very minor)
Miyoshi Umeki: 2/2.5
Anne Revere (Gentleman's Agreement): 3.5
Anne Revere (The Song of Bernadette)
Sandy Dennis: 4
Revere (National Velvet): 4/4.5
I actually own LA Confidential. I suspect Kim Basinger will get at least a 3.5 from me. As for Zellweger, I predict a 2/2.5 from me.

Diana Wynyard: 2/2.5 (Huge gap between her and second to last (Winslet in Titanic with a 3.5)
Jennifer Jones: 3/3.5
Elizabeth Taylor: 4
Grace Kelly: 5
Olivia de Havilland: 5

Louis Morgan said...

She just missed out. I believed I've covered most of those already.