It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
One of the most audacious proposals in all of literature occurs in Shakespeare's "Richard the Third," when the misshapen Richard, who has caused the death of King Henry VI, proposes to his widow, Anne, as she accompanies the corpse of her husband through the streets. Here Shakespeare was collapsing events separated in time, to underscore Richard's evil impudence. Of course in the 15th century royal marriages were more a matter of politics and strategy than of romance, and by the end of the scene Anne is actually considering his proposal.
Now look at a small touch added to the scene by "Richard III," the new film by Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellan. Richard (McKellan) softens up Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas) with flattery, sophistry and lies, and finally offers her a ring, which she accepts. All very well. But in this version, he first removes the ring from his own finger by sticking it in his mouth and lubricating it with saliva, so that as he slips it on her finger she cannot help but feel the spit of her husband's murderer.
That extra measure of repulsive detail scuttles through the entire film, making this "Richard III" not just a seductive telling of Shakespeare's story but also a perversely entertaining one. I've seen it twice, the second time with a large audience that chuckled the way people did during "Silence of the Lambs;" Richard, like Hannibal Lector, is not only a reprehensible man, but a smart one, who is in on the joke. He relishes being a villain; it is his revenge on the world which twisted his body, his face and his smile, and placed him below men who were better shaped to rule and love.
The movie, based on a London stage production which also starred McKellan, advances the action 500 years, to the 1930s, while keeping Shakespeare's words. The first 10 minutes of the film set the stage almost without dialogue, as Richard shoots a rival and then addresses a political rally. When the famous opening lines arrive ("Now is the winter of our discontent"), we slip easily into the language. (More fiendishness: Richard begins his speech in public glory, and then concludes it in private, standing at a urinal, speaking directly to the camera, enlisting us in his scheme.)