Forget ‘The King’s Speech’. If you’re looking for a compelling portrait of British royalty, try Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s gutsy, '30s-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy. SMcKellen is the fascist Duke of Gloucester, who storms to power by bludgeoning, backstabbing and blackmailing anyone who gets in his way. And the rest of the cast is equally spotless: Kristin Scott Thomas is grief incarnate as Richard’s intended; Robert Downey Jr is in his preening prime as raffish American import Lord Rivers; and Jim Broadbent blurs the line between man and toad as the unctuous Duke of Buckingham.
Slicing the play down to its bare bones, co-scriptwriters McKellen and Loncraine craft a forceful, energetic drama that sweeps from the glittering ballrooms of Westminster to the rubble-strewn ruins of Battersea Power Station. Rarely has a film used London’s landmarks so cannily, and rarely has screen Shakespeare been so sharp and satisfying.