The complexity of the language of William Shakespeare’s plays can be off-putting for many and often a barrier to enjoying his work. When we watch a production on the stage or screen it can be difficult to imagine that the actors performing his words have the same difficulty. However, Al Pacino’s Looking For Richard delves into this problem, showing that actors and directors can have the same problem in grasping The Bard’s way with words.
Released in 1996, Pacino’s film blends on-the-move footage (within theatres, on the streets of New York, London and even Stratford-upon-Avon) with dramatic readings in an attempt to explore Shakespeare’s Richard III. He interviews actors famed for tackling Shakespeare’s plays (Kenneth Branagh, James Earl Jones, Derek Jacobi and others) in an attempt to expose the inner workings of the play and remove the fear and mystique lurking with the dense lines of dialogue.
Looking For Richard is as educational as it is enjoyable. It’s great to see actors and scholars alike trying to decipher the meaning of the play, showing the hard work that needs to go into a production – and that’s just to understand what the whole thing is about. For the performance pieces, Pacino surrounds himself with an impressive array of actors including Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder, offering up snippets of what a Pacino version of Richard III might be like.
Pacino injects his film with a certain amount of swagger, engaging and arguing with those he speaks to in equal measure. It’s an interesting way to tackle a subject like Shakespeare and it’s far from the bookish style that many might expect. This is a working man’s look at The Bard, not the intellectuals. Looking For Richard is a perfect way to try and unpeel the language of Shakespeare’s Richard III, but you don’t need to be familiar with the play in order to watch this refreshing and honest look at how the artists and audiences struggle to wrap their minds around William Shakespeare’s work.