Benedict Cumberbatch leads star cast in The Hollow Crown
As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad the BBC produced The Hollow Crown, adapting three of Shakespeare’s plays for television. The first cycle, shown in the summer of 2012 featured the bard’s “Henriad”: Richard II, Henry IV (parts I and II), and Henry V. The adaptations featured many famous faces including Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale who both received BAFTAs for their roles.
This year, The Hollow Crown returns with its second cycle entitled “The Wars of the Roses”. This trilogy of films has condensed Henry VI Part I, Part II and Part III into two films, leaving Richard III to close.
Once again, a star-studded cast is taking part in the Shakespearean fun. Tom Sturridge will play Henry VI with Sophie Okonedo as his Queen Margaret, Hugh Bonneville is Gloucester with Sally Hawkins playing his wife, the Duchess. Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the hefty role of Richard III and Dame Judi Dench will play his mother, Cecily, Duchess of York.
Benedict recently spoke of the challenging role:
“The script does all the heavy lifting. Richard tells the audience about how wrong he feels in his body, about being dejected and overlooked, and about being unable to be part of a royal courtly life with the Plantagenets. In medieval England if you were not born perfect, you were often drowned at birth. It was a terrible social taboo. In Shakespeare’s story, Richard is fostered at a distance from the Kennedy-like family of perfect specimens. There’s very little care for him. His deep-seated anger and hurt leads to his ambition and everything we know of him. That was our way into humanising him.”
Famously remembered as a villainous King, Cumberbatch commented on the audience reaction to his character:
“There’s such humour in other moments where Richard relishes his plans. He’s an antihero because he lures us in. He’s very funny, hopefully. Audiences don’t necessarily side with him but they revel in his villainy! I also don’t want to burden Freudian analysis onto him and make him more understandable. I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, he’s just a victim of this cruel world. Oh, what other choice did he have?’ Of course he had choices. He very clearly makes the wrong ones and suffers the ultimate downfall for that.”
The skeleton of Richard III was discovered in a Leicester car park in 2013, proving the accuracy of descriptions of the King as hunchbacked. This was something that needed to be captured in The Hollow Crown due to the immediacy of television:
“Physicality has always been at the centre of playing Richard III. He is very clearly described as being a hunchback with disproportionate legs. His physicality is there in the play and the script, in his own analysis and in other people’s name-calling. It is unavoidable. On camera, anatomical accuracy is even more important because of the scrutiny provided by the lens. In the opening shots of Richard III, we have the character topless so you can see every detail of the curvature of his spine. It took me about 3-4 hours to put on the prosthetics. The weight of the silicone is incredible. It’s painted to match the skin tone and it looks distressingly real. By contrast on stage Richard’s body has always been something to hide.”
Judi Dench also explains her role as Richard’s mother:
“I play this old bag, Cecily the Duchess of York. Everybody she loves has been killed; her husband, her children. She knows who’s done it and is a kind of Miss Marple! [She knows who’s doing it and she lets him have it]. If anyone says, “I’m in a terribly bad way,” she says, “You may be in a bad way, just wait until you hear what’s happened to me!” That’s the Duchess of York in Richard III.”
She also described why she believed the BBC were so committed to putting on a good television adaptation of the plays:
“There’s no doubt that a bad production of Shakespeare puts schoolchildren off forever. But if you do a really good production of Shakespeare; imaginative, lively and enthusiastic, you take it out of the theatre and put it in its own surroundings. It can be very exciting and it can fire somebody’s imagination. If a child watches that, and perhaps sees somebody they recognise from something else, they can suddenly get energised by a good production. That’s good and it can bring them back to the theatre. Often Shakespeare’s taught in a turgid kind of way but there are great and exciting things to discover in it. I’ve seen a lot of quite young children being excited by Shakespeare. We did The Comedy of Errors at Stratford and at the end we used to invite people to come up and dance onstage. Sometimes we had to ask them to go away! It’s wonderful to engage the imagination. If something is well presented, and exciting, they’ll want to go and see another version of it in the theatre.”
— BBC Two (@BBCTwo) January 21, 2016
The Hollow Crown kicks off tonight (07.05.2016) with Henry VI, Part I at 9pm.