“Murder While I Smile…” Back in 1996, Sir Ian McKellen starred in a vivid, outrageous and visceral screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In this classic archive interview, film critic Robin Askew finds the acting legend on fiery, yet thoughtful, form.

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Ian McKellen pulls himself up in his chair and fixes me with the steely glare that generally precedes murder most foul in his extraordinary performance as the eponymous hunchbacked schemer in Richard Loncraine’s visually stunning Richard III. “Let me throw back the challenge,” he demands. “What’s that line about?”

The line in question is “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – one of two that even those of us who nodded off in Eng Lit lessons will recognise from the play (the other being “Now is the winter of our discontent…”). McKellen’s daring screenplay, developed from Richard Eyre’s stage adaptation, strips away more than 40 extraneous characters, prunes two-and-a-half hours from the play’s usual running time, and commits the ultimate sacrilege of tidying up the Bard’s archaisms. No ‘thees’, ‘thous’ or ‘withals’ here.

But Richard’s desperate boost to the equine exchange rate remains jarringly unaltered in the vivid alternate ’30s England setting, striking the only real false note. He’s sitting in a jeep at the time, f’chrissakes. McKellen is not persuaded that a mechanic might have been more use. “I think people now understand that what that line is about is a man who is desperately trying to get back into the battle and can’t because of the situation he’s in,” he insists. “I think our version’s as good as any other.”

McKellen and Loncraine are holding court at Bristol’s Marriott Hotel as part of a gruelling regional press tour to promote this most accessible of Shakespeare adaptations. They’ve already done Birmingham today and are dashing off shortly to attend a specially-arranged schools’ screening. McKellen has thoughtfully bashed out answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the film (“Why does Richard III talk to the camera?” “Has cinema always been important to you?” and so on), but even these cannot anticipate the demands of newspaper hacks charged with uncovering a Local Angle. No, he corrects the poor woman from the Evening Post who hasn’t seen the film, he has never played in anything at the Old Vic, and since he’s only spending four hours in Bristol he cannot offer an opinion on our lovely city.

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They make an odd couple, Loncraine and McKellen. The latter’s a famously gay theatrical knight whose stage career has been conspicuously more successful than his screen one. The former’s remarkable career began in the swinging ’60s when he marketed such groovy executive toys as the money-spinning Newton’s Cradle. He then graduated to Tomorrow’s World, where he made a further 70 short films about fab gadgets that would revolutionise our way of living forever, but somehow failed to materialise in the corner shop. His directorial debut was Slade in Flame, and he now admits to making films only “when someone is foolhardy enough to give one to me”. His day job is in the lucrative world of commercials. It is Loncraine we have to thank for Bob Hoskins’ “It’s good to talk” and the supremely irritating ‘Papa and Nicole’.

He also admits to a lifelong loathing of Shakespeare, of which he has only now been cured. “I think there are millions of people out there like me who were taught Shakespeare rather badly at school and weren’t allowed to laugh at the funny bits or get horny at the sexy bits,” he explains. “And so I ignored it. And it took me a long while to realise that it was me who was at fault. Shakespeare is the most accessible writer if you approach him correctly for a modern audience.”

You’d have thought this meeting of the minds would result in some almighty arguments on set. “The first day of rehearsals, you’d got Ian, Maggie Smith, Robert Downey Jr., Annette Bening, Nigel Hawthorne… the list of people was quite intimidating,” admits Loncraine candidly. “For me, the great danger as director was that the actors wouldn’t look at me – they’d look at Ian to see whether he approved. And that would have been a disaster because Ian wasn’t directing the movie. So Ian and I used to have arguments, but we’d have them in front of everybody else. It was the only way for people to see that I was strong enough – if that’s the word – to disagree with Ian.”

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“Richard was constantly asking me questions about Shakespeare and challenging me to come up with credible answers,” adds McKellen, who has played Richard III more than 300 times on stage. “And if I couldn’t convince him, then he would win the argument. And he was constantly introducing me to ways of telling a story visually and cinematically, which I wasn’t going to resist because that’s what we both wanted. Anyone who thinks they’re coming to see the play should be disabused of that. The play belongs in the theatre.”

One aspect of the play which very quickly gave way to more cinematic sensibilities was Richard’s dramatic demise in the climactic battle. “We always knew there was going to be a battle because that’s what Shakespeare gave us,” explains Loncraine. “But he didn’t kill Richard on stage. The guy walks off and someone else walks on and says, ‘The king is dead. Long live the king.’ Well, you couldn’t do that to a cinema audience or they’d rip the seats out. Richard had to die on screen.”

Both men resist any attempts to draw parallels between their militaristic ’30s stylings and Nazi Germany. “It looks like Nazi imagery, but actually it’s only red and black,” points out the director. “The helmets are 1962 NATO helmets and the characters wear Greek uniforms from the 1980s that we fiddled with.”

Indeed, the film’s lavish set design and imaginative use of locations are what lend it such a distinctive flavour. McKellen stresses that “this is an English play about English characters with English characteristics” and it exasperates him that the idea of an alternate ’30s England riven by civil war still confuses some of the film’s critics.

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“The ’30s is perhaps the most recent period of our history when someone from within the ranks of the establishment might have taken over, when dictatorship and tyranny were in the air all over the rest of Europe. The first review we got was not from a drama critic but from a political correspondent in a right-wing newspaper, who said: ‘Here they go again, these lefties’ – ‘lefty luvvies’, I think we were called – ‘rubbishing the right wing. Why can’t they set Richard III in Soviet Russia rather than Germany?’ And you think, well, did he see the film. What on earth’s he talking about?”

It was during a Radio 3 debate with vehemently anti-gay Tory hack Peregrine Worsthorne that McKellen first ‘came out’. He subsequently became the first openly homosexual actor to accept a knighthood, in the face of bitter opposition from fellow activist Derek Jarman. His next project takes him to Hollywood, where he’s to star in Bryan (The Usual Suspects) Singer’s big-budget adaptation of Apt Pupil – a story from Different Seasons, the Stephen King collection that also yielded The Shawshank Redemption. Given that Tinseltown has been described as the world’s biggest closet, what do they make of him over there?

“Yeah, well, that’s a simple question with a long answer really,” he says after a pause. “It’s currently as difficult to be openly gay if you’re an actor in Hollywood as it was a couple of generations ago to be openly Jewish. Because you had to change your name and disguise the fact that you were Jewish. Under McCarthy, you had to disguise what your politics were. At the moment, it’s thought that you have to disguise the fact that you’re gay. Not if you’re an executive. Not if you’re a manager, a writer or a musician. That’s thought to be all right. But if you’re an actor, it’s thought to be death.”

The furrowed brow of concentration gives way to a broad grin. “So it gives me the greatest of pleasure to arrive in Hollywood on public occasions and talk about being gay because, in fact, nobody gives a damn. I can see the difference between the stage I’m at in my career and someone who’s starting out and trying to be a heterosexual sex symbol. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Some young man or woman will come out and be honest about themselves and maybe the whole thing will change overnight.

“When I played in And the Band Plays On, which was only three years ago, they couldn’t find an American actor who was prepared to play a gay character – whether he himself was gay or not. This was before Philadelphia and Tom Hanks. So they cast an actor who was 20 years too old for the part, the wrong nationality and didn’t even look like the man I was supposed to be playing. It was crazy. But Hollywood doesn’t hold the mirror up to nature. It holds up a distorting mirror – the world as they would like it to be.”

This feature originally appeared in Venue Magazine. Richard III was released on 26 April 1996. Shamefully, the film is not currently available on DVD. Second-hand copies of the deleted UK release regularly sell for £30 on eBay. Beware of European imports which have non-removable subtitles.

In the week that Issue 13 of Shakespeare Magazine is finally published, Editor Pat Reid is “thrilled and honoured” to appear as the latest guest in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s legendary and long-running podcast!

We’re delighted to announce that Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid is this week’s guest on the long-running and supremely entertaining Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast.
You can listen to the podcast here. Hope you enjoy it!

Episode 572. The Shakespeare Magazine, 27 November 2017 (Length 17:05)

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Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid.

Pat Comments: “I’m thrilled and honoured. Reduced’s frontman Austin Tichenor interviews me with considerable eloquence and charm to explore the story of Shakespeare Magazine, with plenty of laughs along the way. He says the loveliest things about the magazine too. I’m still smiling!”

From the Reduced Shakespeare Company website:

“Pat Reid, the creator, editor, and publisher of Shakespeare Magazine, talks about how the magazine began, why it briefly stopped, and how it has risen again.

“Download all the issues here, then hear Pat discuss how his love of Shakespeare led to this passion project, the complexities of publishing, the importance of fandom, the ironies of branding, the shock and surprise at immediate positive feedback, the glorious idea of treating a 400-year-long gone author as if he’s still alive, the time his love’s labour was almost lost, and how it seems that all’s well has indeed ended all well.”

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Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

You can listen to all 572 Reduced Shakespeare Company podcasts on their website.

“Shakespeare Magazine is in trouble – big trouble. Can you help?” An urgent appeal to all our readers around the world from Pat Reid, Founder and Editor of Shakespeare Magazine

Dear Readers,

The headline really says it all. Shakespeare Magazine is in trouble.

This month, I ran out of money and exceeded my overdraft limit at the bank. As a result, Shakespeare Magazine‘s future is in danger.

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I’ve taken on part-time work for a media company (here in Bristol, England) and I’ve also been editing Shakespeare articles for a client in the USA. But my payments haven’t come through yet, and in the meantime I’m behind with my rent and bills.

This includes my monthly payments to Issuu and Yumpu, the companies that provide online platforms for Shakespeare Magazine.

I’m also unable to send out the latest batch of Shakespeare Magazine T-shirts and gift packs, because I don’t have the money for postage.

And now there’s a disturbing possibility: I may get so far into debt that Shakespeare Magazine will effectively cease to exist.

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I need to stress that most of the amounts I’m talking about are extremely small, but I need to urgently request your help in raising the money.

And so I’m asking you to please send me what you can afford: whether ten pounds (or dollars, euros etc), or a hundred or a thousand – or even more.

The bigger the donation, the greater the chance of saving Shakespeare Magazine.

I now have a paypal.me link for instant donations. It accepts payments in most major currencies

And please email me via shakespearemag@outlook.com if you would like to donate by an alternative method.

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With your help, I am confident I can get back on track to publish two issues of Shakespeare Magazine before the new year: one at the end of October, and one just before Christmas.

Naturally, I will be very happy to answer any questions or propositions you may have.

Thank you so much for any and all support you can give to Shakespeare Magazine.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Reid, Founder and Editor – Shakespeare Magazine

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As always, go here to get all 12 issues of Shakespeare Magazine free via Issuu.

Or go here to get all 12 issues free via Yumpu. (Some readers prefer this platform)

The lively, eclectic and much-loved Bristol Shakespeare Festival runs throughout July. Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid has previewed the Festival (and interviewed Festival Manager Jacqui Ham) for The Bristol Magazine

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Image: The Handlebards

Pat Reid writes:
Shakespeare Magazine is based in the city of Bristol, in the South West of England. We’re 70 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon (with which we share the River Avon) and 120 miles from London. But we’re very lucky to have a Shakespeare tradition all of our own. You may have heard of the historic Bristol Old Vic Theatre, along with its prestigious Theatre School. We also have a modern Shakespeare Tradition pioneered by the Tobacco Factory Theatres. And we have no less than four pubs named after Shakespeare!

But perhaps the most exciting event of all for a Bristol-based Shakespeare fan like myself is the annual Bristol Shakespeare Festival. This year the Festival is bigger than ever, with an impressive array of touring companies and one-off events taking over the city during the whole of July. I’m delighted to have once again been asked to preview Bristol Shakespeare Festival for The Bristol Magazine. I hope that it will encourage Bristolians to come out and enjoy a Shakespeare show. And I hope that visitors from further afield will also come and experience what Bristol has to offer. I can certainly promise that it will be “gert lush”, as we say in Bristol!

Read the full article in The Bristol Magazine here.

Can you help us today? An urgent new appeal from the Editor for donations to keep Shakespeare Magazine alive and free

Shakespeare Magazine’s Founder & Editor Pat Reid

“Shakespeare Magazine is made on a micro-budget from a bedroom in Bristol, England (which is where I’m typing this message right now). I generate some revenue from advertising, but not enough to cover the costs. So for the past year I’ve asked our readers for contributions to help me continue. Many have stepped up to help, and I thank them all.”

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“The first issue of Shakespeare Magazine was put together in just 19 days – I’m convinced this was the fastest launch in media history. Issue 2 followed six weeks later, with the third instalment arriving just a month after that. At the moment, the gaps between the issues are getting wider – not because I’m short of material, but because I’m short of money.

Apart for producing six issues of the magazine each year (we only published two in 2016, although it was our most successful year ever), there are other simple, obvious things I’d like to do to make Shakespeare Magazine better.

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These include finding an office, upgrading my primitive equipment, revamping Shakespeare Magazine’s website, recording weekly podcasts, launching a video channel, and making and selling merchandise including the long-awaited Shakespeare Magazine T-shirts. But these are simply beyond my reach while I’m scrabbling for pennies on a day-to-day basis.

I don’t need a lot of money to make Shakespeare Magazine – it’s probably the most frugal publication in the world. But the bigger the donation, the more I’ll be able to do. To give you an  example, £10,000 (or the same amount in dollars or Euros) would enable me to produce three issues of the magazine within a space of six months.

And so today I’m actively seeking big donations: £1,000 or £500 or £100. If you can’t afford that, please give what you can – believe me when I say I am grateful for any donation, however small.

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If you want to know more about how your money will be spent, or if you wish to support Shakespeare Magazine in other ways, such as advertising, sponsorship or loaning resources, please contact me by email at ShakespeareMag@outlook.com where I will be happy to answer your questions.

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Special courses from Shakespeare’s Globe held at Bristol’s Clifton College help teachers unlock the power of the Bard

Shakespeare’s Globe has created five new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for teachers to unlock active, practical approaches to teaching the curriculum through Shakespeare.

The courses are created by Globe Education in line with requirements at Key Stage 3, 4 and 5.

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The courses commenced in October with ‘Shakespeare for teachers new to the profession’, followed by ‘Shakespeare’s Villains’ in November, and ‘Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare’s plays’ in January.

Next up is ‘Shakespeare and Leadership’ on 7 May 2016 and ‘Teaching Shakespeare’s Tragedies’ on 11 June 2016. Then ‘Shakespeare’s Villains’ is repeated on 2 July.

Each is an intensive Saturday course held at, and in collaboration with, Clifton College, an independent school in Bristol. Whole departments are particularly encouraged to attend.

GlobeEd Teachers' Workshop May 2012
The training is delivered by Globe Education Practitioners – actors, directors and creatives who take techniques developed on the Globe stage and in the rehearsal rooms, and develop them for effective use in the classroom.

Each course offers a range of approaches for exploring Shakespeare’s language, techniques and characters in ways that avoid a ‘Shakesfear’ forming in students – or teachers.

“Clifton gives us a wonderful opportunity to share the Globe’s approaches to teaching Shakespeare with teachers and students in the West Country and south Wales,” said Director of Globe Education Patrick Spottiswoode.

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“All workshops are infused with the spirit and soul of lively action, play-centred and playful, and led by a team of Globe Education practitioners who enjoy making play for a living,” he added.

The cost of the courses is £150 per applicant per day. Discounts are available for schools which book for whole department training.

Go here for more details, or Telephone: 020 7902 1463.

Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine arrives just in time for 2015 – and, yes, it’s still completely free!

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Yes, we made you wait for it (sorry about that) but the latest completely FREE issue of Shakespeare Magazine is finally here.

Our scintillating cover story celebrates the amazing Shakespeare documentary film Muse of Fire.

We also investigate Shakespeare and the Tower of London, and take a trip to Staunton, Virginia – home of the American Shakespeare Center.

Meanwhile, actors from Shakespeare’s Globe have teamed up with a crew of legal eagles to perform at the famous Inns of Court.

Lois Leveen rethinks Romeo and Juliet with her evocative novel Juliet’s Nurse, while the experimental Filter Theatre Company remixes Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol.

Plus! You could win a copy of Station Eleven, the thrilling post-apocalyptic Shakespeare novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

Go here to read Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine right now.

And a very Happy New Year to our readers all over the world!