Richard 2. Dir. Michael Bogdanov. Perf. Michael Pennington, Michael Cronin. English Shakespeare Co., 1990. VHS. 145 minutes.
reviewed by Henrietta Gaddy
This version of Richard II is a filmed adaptation of a stage production by the English Shakespeare Company, directed by Michael Bogdanov with Michael Pennington as King Richard II, Michael Cronin as Bolingbroke, Colin Farrell as York, and Jack Carr as Mowbray. Though the dress is somewhat modernized, the staging for the most part is reminiscent of the originally Elizabethan setting. The play begins with medieval music played to introduce the gathering held for King Richard II. Michael Pennington is in the center of it all and taking in all the admiration of his entourage of subjects as Mowbray (Jack Carr) dressed in red appears on his left side and Bolingbroke (Michael Cronin) dressed in blue appears on his right. The opening conflict that interrupts the court concerns the claims that Bolingbroke has made against Mowbray in the death of Woodstock. Michael Cronin plays a very stern and calm Bolingbroke. He seems very relaxed as he tries to make his case the best he can. Carr’s Mowbray dismisses the accusations made against him and doesn’t let the audience know of any tension between him and Richard (Pennington) during this scene. The only way to know if there is any tension is to listen carefully to the words that Pennington and Carr are saying.
As the film progresses, Pennington plays a very self-referential Richard II. Clyde Pollitt, who plays John of Gaunt, enters in Act 2 in a wheelchair with Colin Farrell as York. Pollitt plays a very decrepit and sickly old Gaunt whose dying wish is to see Richard II pay for what he has done to England. Pennington comes in with a bounce in his step and leans over and examines Pollitt as he is sniffing out the last breath of his life. Pollitt’s Gaunt gives the “evil eye” towards this ambling king. Pennington’s Richard, not wanting to hear the comments from his dying uncle, turns and sneers and covers his face a little. At this instance it seems that Gaunt can read everything that Richard has done wrong, and the king seems embarrassed -- as though thinking that if Gaunt sees through him perhaps everyone else might as well.
At the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act 3, characters seemed to come out of the woodwork, when Bolingbroke returns. Soon there is an execution set for Bushy, Bagot and their accomplices. In 3.3 Bolingbroke and some of the soldiers hit and restrain Bushy and Bagot -- the first really violent action in the film. Bolingbroke is clearly very much welcomed by the people in the town, represented when Hotspur (played by Andrew Jarvis) pledges his allegiance to the returning lord. Jarvis is a tall, bald actor who wears a black tie around his head in order to distinguish himself from Paul Brennen, who plays Bagot.
As the deposition scene begins, Pennington goes from being very subdued to very pretentious. Pennington seems to converse with himself as the scene goes on. Pennington starts to hand Cronin the crown and scepter but then takes them back and prances around a little before he makes up his mind to resign. Central to this scene is a desk behind which Cronin stands and beside which Pennington stands. Pennington takes the crown off his head and dangles it in front of Cronin. First Cronin just stands there watching what Pennington does next; then he comes from behind the desk and reaches for the crown. Pennington hands the crown to him, walks to the front and drops to the ground. As the glass is handed to Pennington to look at himself, he really plays this part the best. At this very moment while many others are on stage Pennington seems to be offering a soliloquy as he describes all the damage done to him though not a scratch shows upon his face.
Michael Pennington as Richard II
In the final act Pennington is in prison dressed in a dingy, long white linen gown as he starts a real soliloquy. Pennington presents Richard II to his favorite audience, it seems, as he is talking with himself about what he is going through. When Pennington asks the keeper to taste his food and is refused, Pennington looks at him and with a “why not?” expression until he realizes that he is no longer king. No one is giving him the attention or the respect he needs to maintain his narcissism. This scene ends with Pennington fighting and even killing a man and showing a newly transformed Richard II. Pennington not only demonstrates this fight well but brings a dramatically new personality as he throws chairs, pushes the bed, wrestles with the other men and then falls to his death. In the play’s last scene the new king, Henry 4, is brought the body of the former king by Exton, played by the same actor who played Mowbray – which casting adds to the irony of the play’s ending as it began, with another banishment. King Henry 4 then walks up to the casket and kneels over the body. Cronin looks as if he wants his murdered predecessor to wake up so that he may ask forgiveness for what he has thought and said about wanting him dead. Somber music ends the final act of this Richard-centered production.