The Hollow Crown Disc 1: Richard II, William Shakespeare

Ben Whishaw as Richard II
I loved this production of Richard II. The play has never appealed to me greatly because Richard is such a complicated likeable/unlikeable figure, but this production absolutely made it work. Whishaw is phenomenal in the role of Richard. He has a shy quality, and a showman quality, and a martyr quality, but can turn in an instant and lash out with spite. Richard tends in the play to use language comparing himself to Jesus, and Whishaw gave you all of that, but also picked up Richard's nastiness and over-the-top theatricality. I've never been so aware of the many distinct facets of character in this role. In the "Making of" DVD extras, Whishaw mentions that he and director, Rupert Goold, talked about Michael Jackson, and I never would have thought of that comparison, but I think it's brilliant because they captured that quality of never being off-stage...even in how he sits and moves, Whishaw's Richard is always performing.

Rory Kinnear was also notable as Bolingbrook (the future Henry IV), because he brought a surprising restraint and moral uprightness, sometimes an unexpected gentleness, to the role. One had the sense he was a good man, trying to do the right thing, and getting in over his head.

David Suchet as the Duke of York
Whishaw's performance makes him the star, but a surprising amount of the heavy-lifting in the play, I think, goes to David Suchet's fantastic performance as the Duke of York. He's so good, you don't even notice how good he is, because he makes it look easy. He makes it sound as if he's speaking plain English. Patrick Stewart also comes in briefly to knock John of Gaunt's "England" speech out of the park. It's just a pity his character isn't around longer.

The other knockout feature of this production for me was the portrayal of two conflicting worlds (see also Henry IV post) between Anglo-Saxon medieval England and Richard's elaborately refined environment he's created for himself. There is a brilliant, brilliant juxtaposition at the trial-by-combat scene in which we move from knights on horses to Richard's tent decorated with flowers.

Find The Hollow Crown on Netflix, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or iTunes: rent it; buy it. How often do you get to the chance to binge-watch the Shakespeare History Cycle??! I'm kicking myself that I didn't know this series aired in 2013. My only consolation is that it would have killed me to wait until 2016 for The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (Henry VI Pts 1-3 plus Richard III with Benedict Cumberbatch!).