The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses Part 3 Reviewed


The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses wrapped things up with Richard III and Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. How did it turn out?

Of the plays staged for this series of The Hollow CrownRichard III is almost certainly the most well-known. From “Now is the winter of our discontent” to “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”, Richard lords it over the play that bears his name. It is, by no means, an easy role to fill.

As we’ve stated previously, Benedict Cumberbatch benefits mightily from getting to strut his stuff in Henry VI, Part Two. Taken together, the two tell a complete story of the rise and fall. Richard III really only tells the story of the villain.

But oh, does Cumberbatch have fun with the villainy. His voice soars from a raging roar to an insidious whisper within mere moments. He addresses the camera for his asides and for his opening speech, and with that, Cumberbatch draws us in. The stray looks at the camera rather reminded us of Frank Underwood in House of Cards, actually. (It’s amusing to note that Kevin Spacey has also actually played Richard before.) This isn’t so much of a bad thing, actually.

For about the first two hours, Cumberbatch is indeed great, squaring off with Judi Dench, Keeley Hawes, and Sophie Okonedo, all of whom give him a run for his money. (I’ll discuss them more later, because they are worth discussing.) Then, though, we arrive at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

It is not great, to put it mildly. Game of Thrones‘ generally-stellar combat scenes have spoiled me, speaking personally, so when Cumberbatch and Luke Treadaway go at it, it’s just very disappointing. Cumberbatch’s attempt to die, shaking and trembling as he pretends to be stabbed, reads poorly as well. Perhaps all of this is meant to be symbolic somehow.

However, the script and direction tend to go too heavy on other forms of symbolism, so I suspect that it was meant to come off as at least moderately epic. Speaking of symbolism, the opening scene actually presents Richard with a chessboard. It proceeds to continue showing him with chess games. When Richard gets to scheme and plot for the entire play, it reads as unnecessary.

Then, as he grows more paranoid, he picks up a new habit of tapping his ring against the marble chessboard. It sounds like hoofbeats, because of course it does, since the above-mentioned horse line is one of two that most people can easily ascribe to this play.

Perhaps after this adaptation, people will start remembering Cecily, Duchess of York, and her final speech to her son a bit more. Dame Judi Dench does not disappoint as Richard’s mother. To illustrate, here’s the scene in question:

This does not discount Okonedo, playing a now-captive and maddened Margaret of Anjou. It is she who gets to close out the entire series, not in speech, but visually. She stands on the battlefield, still strewn with corpses, and looks up at the camera as it pans out to show how many have died for this hollow crown. (Remember: symbolism. Also, please excuse the pun. We couldn’t resist.) When she does get to speak, she once again steals the scene from Cumberbatch, though has a tougher time doing so when she stands with Dench and Hawes.

Finally, Hawes also does well as Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s wife and effectively Richard’s rival. Notably, these three women all see through Richard’s nonsense, and the actresses let all of it show with disdain or flat-out hatred in each look they give him. Phoebe Fox as Anne Neville tries for this, but it’s hard to compete with those three in that department. Anne shows up about as often as Margaret does in terms of speaking time. In other words, it’s not like it can’t be done.

To bring it back around to Treadaway, who plays Henry Tudor, most of his job consists of looking heroic as he rides around on his horse. He gets a speech — it’s no St. Crispin’s Day from Henry V, but it’s certainly rousing — and then provides the other half of the silly duel with Cumberbatch.

Alas, Tom Sturridge shows up one last time to menace Richard in his dreams. I tend to agree with my fellow reviewer on this website in that Sturridge really doesn’t match many of the other stars. Thankfully, he has about one line in this play.

All in all, Richard III closes out this series of The Hollow Crown on a generally good to great note. It’s marred by its ending, which reads as silly. (Keep an eye out for the toppled chess piece and remember to nod sagely at the wisdom of the choice to include it, for you have understood this symbolism.)

One wonders what Dominic Cooke will turn his attention to next in the world of Shakespeare, or if he will do so again at all. Currently, he’s directing an actual film, On Chesil Beach, for release next year.

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Presumably, we’ll have to wait at least a few years if anything happens at all.