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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A Richard III Binge

 I have been bingeing recently on Richard III stuff. 

It started with Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter Of Time, one of my comfort reading books. I first heard of it when I was in Year 11, studying the Shakespeare play in English. We had a very good teacher who mentioned it in class and, intrigued, I hunted it up and read it…and reread it, over and over, and joined the Richard III Society. I have it in ebook these days, so can read it whenever I feel like it, though I dropped out of the Richard III Society when it just got too fiddly to rejoin.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the book, it’s the last of Josephine Tey’s novels about Inspector Grant. This time, he solves a very cold case from his hospital bed, the case of Richard III - did he do it or didn’t he? The verdict is “not guilty”. 

I’ve read quite a few Richard III novels over the years, but this is the one I always come back to. It’s quite short, not much more than a novella, and I always  find myself surprised at how quickly I get through it. 

Anyway, I read it and then went to YouTube for Richard’s funeral in Leicester. There was a procession to watch and then some of the actual ceremony. Richard still has family, though not direct descendants; his little boy by his Queen died young, his illegitimate daughter Katherine lived long enough to marry, but died too - I can’t recall how, I think it was an accident. His illegitimate son, John of Gloucester was executed by Henry VII. There may have been another son, Dickon, who lived to a ripe old age as a stonemason, but he didn’t have children either. 

But there are some descendants of Richard’s sisters, one of them an Englishwoman, another a Canadian carpenter who made the coffin. They were, of course, at the funeral.

A few days ago, my great niece Rachel asked me to edit her school essay about the Shakespeare play and Looking For Richard, a documentary by Al Pacino, with a mixture of discussion, interview and bits of the play. 

I had to buy a download of the Pacino film, but the Shakespeare was available in the BBC Hollow Crown series, which is on Amazon Prime and the ABC’s iView, so I watched that. The lead role is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, whom you will certainly know as Sherlock Holmes in the modern series Sherlock. He has done a lot more than that, of course, including Khan in the new Star Trek movie series and the voice of Satan in Good Omens and Dr Strange(with an American accent) in the Marvel movies. 

By the way, he, too, is a distant relative of Richard III, a cousin many times removed, via Richard’s Mum, Cecily Neville(played in this film by the amazing Judi Dench). He read a poem at the funeral.

Anyway, he was an impressive Richard, one of the few I have seen as truly scary. Usually, Richard gets the audience on side at first, making us laugh with him, before suddenly showing he is not the likeable rogue you thought. I have seen quite a few Richards, including Anthony Sher, Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen, who was in a film version set in the 1930s - I can’t seem to get a copy of that, dammit, a great pity, as it works. Olivier’s Richard becomes truly scary when his little nephew makes a joke about his back, and you can see real fear on the kid’s face when he realises that this is not his jolly Uncle Richard. Cumberbatch simply looks grim and unamused as if he is thinking, fine, I can wait

His scene with Lady Anne ends with his face truly amazed at having got away with it. “Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?” He simply can’t believe it. The same, later, with his sister in law, when he asks her to marry her daughter, his niece. He doesn’t even deny killing her boys. And she walks off saying “Write to me.” And again he is amazed at the hypocrisy of these people who are supposed to be the good guys.

And Cumberbatch did both scenes beautifully! 

I do recommend this version.

If you can find it, there is a Dave Allen skit in which he, as Richard, is wooing Anne, and hands her his dagger. She stabs him with it and he sinks to the ground groaning, “You weren’t …supposed…to do that…”

So, I watched this film and then the Al Pacino one, before reading the essay. Al Pacino must have had quite a decent budget for what was a documentary/performance combination, because apart from those impressive costumes, they managed to get in a battle scene. All of the scenes performed are discussed by the cast and some interviewees who know the subject, and even random people in the streets. The film is really intended for those who aren’t that familiar with Shakespeare, and it does seem to work well in that respect.

So, what Richard fiction should I get back to next? Sharon Kay Penman? Rosemary Hawley Jarman? Jeremy Potter’s A Trail Of Blood

Anything new you can recommend? Non fiction is also okay, if new, as I have read a fair few of those too.

See you on the other side of the binge! 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm a big Richard III fan too. I read "The Daughter of Time" in high school a million years ago and have reread it two or three times since. It truly is a classic! I've seen all the films you mention too. But alas, I am not up to date on current Richard literature, so I can't recommend anything -- I'll be interested in seeing what list you compile so I can perhaps get back into Richard myself!

Anne Young said...

I also enjoyed the Josephine Tey novel when I was a teenager. It is a long time since I read it but I remember that it made me thing critically about how and why villains (and also heroes) might be portrayed by others after they are gone.
I shall search out the Cumberbatch play - sounds interesting, thank you.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Anne! I think the story of Richard is very much a case of history being written by the winners. I do hope you can get hold of the Hollow Crown version. It’s brilliant!

Hi Debra! I haven’t read any newer Richard fiction, but I do very much recommend Penman’s The Sunne In Splendour and Jarman’s We Speak No Treason, both classics in this genre. Those are among the best I have read, and still in print, as far as I know. A Trail Of Blood is a mystery story, in which a monk, just before Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, goes looking for York heirs. Not sure whether that is still in print, though.

Hels said...

I also read The Daughter of Time, the 1951 detective novel by Josephine Tey. By the late 1960s it appealed to me enormously that a modern police officer could investigate the crimes of a 15th century royal.

If I read the book again, 52 years later, would it feel as clever and inventive as it felt back then?

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hels! I still love the idea of an entire crime investigation of a cold case taking place in a hospital room. It’s just - different. But no, I don’t think you could set it in our own time, because Inspector Grant would either do his paperwork in bed, on a laptop, or he could do his own research online or in ebook instead of having an assistant to help him. It just wouldn’t be the same.

AJ Blythe said...

Sue, you were doing my head in when you were talking about how the Canadian built the coffin, I was thinking it sounds modern but you must mean back in time. Then when you said how Cumberbatch read something at the funeral... had to google. I had *no* idea that they reburied him not that long ago! Fascinating (and much less confusing now, lol).

Sue Bursztynski said...

Um, yes. He is descended from one of Richard’s sisters. They did a DNA test to confirm the connection. Richard was buried in a church connected with an abbey which was destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries, so he was found under a car park in Leicester. When they had checked the remains they re-buried him, in Leicester Cathedral. You can watch the funeral on YouTube.

AJ Blythe said...

That's fascinating that they did a DNA test.

Sue Bursztynski said...

A pity that they won’t do a test on the children found in the Tower. But DNA tests are fascinating, yes. I read that they found a body thousands of years old near an English village and some tests established that there was someone living in the village who was related!

AJ Blythe said...

How amazing would that be to find your ancestors were in that same village!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I believe the person found was prehistoric, so even more interesting!

AJ Blythe said...

Oh my gosh, yes!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - fascinating post - my uncle was devoted to Josephine Tey's 'Daughter of Time' - I've read it - but struggled with it - I'm not a history buff.

However the excavations in the car park in Leicester, and then the revelations on the skeletal findings were fascinating to watch and think about the 'cold case' and how much with our modern techniques we can work out. The tv programmes about his re-interment in Leicester Cathedral was extraordinary to watch, as too the research they carried out on 'all things' ... keeping as near as possible to 15th century ways as possible for his final resting place.

I wrote quite a long post (27 March 2015) about a variety of happenings at the same time ... and left a link which I see is no longer working ... so I'll remove that. But the details are there ...

Now I've more time I must keep an eye out for these and watch them. Thanks for the great overview ... cheers Hilary