Theatre of Blood 1973 ****


Everyone’s a critic, or at least, that’s how it seems to veteran actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) in Douglas Hickox’s celebrated slice of Grand Guiginol. Lionheart is angry at the kind of reviews he gets, and decides to take revenge on the Theatre Critics Guild with the aid of his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), who seemingly disguises herself as Jeff Lynne from the Electric Light Orchestra to do his bidding. The critics themselves are a wonderfully cast bunch, all destined to be offed in a bloody fashion determined by the works of Shakespeare. Dennis Price, Arthur Lowe, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Harry Andrews and Ian Hendry are amongst the victims, and there’s also time for such diversions as a sword-fight on trampolines. The neat idea is something of a precursor of both Paddington 2 and Se7en, although David Fincher probably wouldn’t have much time for a comic detective duo of Milo O’Shea and Eric Sykes. Michael J Lewis contributes beautiful, lush music that underscores the melancholy of the conceit; Theatre of Blood is a fun romp that proves that black comedy can work with the right, light touch.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead 1990 ***


Tom Stoppard’s wonderfully literate take on the inner-lives of the minor characters from Hamlet is adapted for the screen in sprightly fashion for this 1990 film which he directed himself. Gary Oldman and Tim Roth display exactly the right kind of chemistry as the squabbling two-some, caught up in the intrigue of the Elsinore court, but gradually becoming aware that their destinies are not their own. Stoppard’s prose has not always been served well by cinema; as director, he gives full vent to the ingenious wordplay; the analogy between death and boats shows his gift for verbal dexterity at its best. Richard Dreyfuss handles the innuendos of the Player King with skill, and while the wordy quality may not appeal to everyone, Stoppard fashions a faithful record of a memorably clever play.

The Dresser 1983 ****


Writer Ronald Harwood evokes the spirit of the ultimate ham actor, Donald Wolfit, in this wonderfully arch character drama from Peter Yates. Known only as Sir, this Shakespearean firebrand is played to the hilt by Albert Finney; an opening scene in which he stops a train by projecting his voice is a perfect illustration of his commanding figure. But his power is fuelled by an unusual relationship, as meek assistant Norman (Tom Courtney) is the wind beneath Sir’s wings. Set during the London Blitz, The Dresser was based on Harwood’s won experiences as a dresser for Wolfit, and while unashamedly theatrical in tone, Yates’s film is peppered with fantastic anecdotes about the bitchy-backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes of a rep company. Sir’s line ; “The critics? No, I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?’ gives some idea of the barnstorming style. Nominated for five Oscars, the Dresser is something of a forgotten movie; Finney’s majestic performance makes it well worth seeking out on free-movie channel Crackle.

Looking For Richard 1996 ***


Al Pacino’s passion project is a welcome insight into the actor himself, and specifically his passion for Shakespeare’s Richard III. Annoying as it was to see Pacino riffing on Adam Sandler vehicle Jack and Jill by ripping scenes from The Godfather, placing it in the context of a performance of Richard II at least gives a specific context; for a method actor, Pacino has an endearing willingness to send himself up. Looking for Richard alternates his thoughts on the modern day relevance of the play with scenes from an incomplete version of the play. With Pacino as the king, Alec Baldwin as the Duke of Clarence, Winona Ryder as Lady Anne and Kevin Spacey a perfect Earl of Buckingham, the results are surprisingly good, and enough to make it regrettable that Pacino didn’t go the whole hog. His interviews with British actors suggest the American actor felt that the play’s Britishness would prevent him from doing a definitive version, but Looking For Richard suggests Pacino would still have the chops for it.

King Lear 1987 ***


So while King Lear is not a particularly good or recommendable piece of cinema, although some claim it is, in terms of cinematic ephemera, it’s a must. Any film featuring Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Burgess Meredith, Julie Delpy, Norman Mailer and Jean-Luc Godard has to have a curiosity value, and even it that’s all it offers, King Lear has a certain fascination in the same way that the 1967 version of Casino Royale has. Most of the screen time is absorbed by Peter Sellars as William Shaksper Junior the Fifth, who is attempting to create a performance of King Lear in the wake of Chernobyl. This mafia-tinged version is never seen, although Meredith as Don Learo and Ringwald as Cordelia are seen rehearsing, while director Goddard plays someone called Professor Pluggy and is presumably doing this as an expensive joke on his producers good nature. A mess, a shambles, and yet not bereft of ideas, King Lear is one of the oddest films on You Tube today.