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Last Saturday evening, the BBC broadcast the 3rd in the current series of The Hollow Crown, Richard III.

It features Benedict Cumberbatch as the scheming, murderous monarch, Judi Dench as his mother, the Duchess of York, and Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou, widow of Henry VI.

The play follows on from the 2 previous episodes (compressed from the 3 Henry VI plays) and it helps to have watched the earlier ones to build up an understanding of the background, the characters, and their relationships, but this is the big one, where Richard III comes into his wicked, murderous own.

It's a very good adaptation. Cumberbatch revels in the role, particularly his soliloquies, spoken directly to the camera, drawing us in to his plots.

Between times, he spends a lot of time brooding over a chess board, drumming his fingers, never satisfied or safe.

They play is, of course, pretty bleak, but there are nevertheless moments of humour - the scene in which the Mayor of London and others arrive to 'persuade' Richard to take the throne is very funny.

The final showdown, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, is as grim as it comes, with endless acres of blood and rain and mud.

Richmond (Luke Treadaway) naturally turns up, looking impossibly clean-cut and noble, and, inevitably, defeats Richard.

This is, of course, entirely consistent with Shakespeare's play, if not with history (the victory is true, of course. The nobility, less so)

It's well worth seeing.

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We are well into the Wars of the Roses now - battles are two-a-penny, Warwick the Kingmaker is busy manipulating things, and foolish, vacillating Clarence is changing sides every five minutes.

And of course, Richard of York's younger son, Richard, is  limping around, dressed entirely in black and soliloquising about his dastardly ambitions, and looking sideways under his eyebrows.

People are getting stabbed and decapitated all over the place, Margaret of Anjou is demonstrating that she is a far better general, and on the whole, better suited than her husband to be a medieval monarch.

Margaret of Anjou (Sophie Okonedo)

It is all extremely well done, and very graphic, in the representation of the sheer, vicsious bloodiness of the Wars of the Roses.

We left the action just after the new King, Edward IV, upsets pretty much everyone by marrying a dowerless, English  widow rather than  making the political marriage arranged for him, and after Margaret and Henry's son is killed.

With this cheerful starting point, we shall be heading into Richard III, the final part of this 'series' of 'The Hollow Crown', next week.

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So, 4 years after the BBC's first 'Hollow Crown' series, comprising Richard II, Henry IV Pts 1 and 2, and Henry V, they have finally completed, and are showing, the second series, which will, over three 2 hour films, cover Henry VI parts 1-3, and Richard III.

I've been looking forward to this, as the first set were so good, and of course there are lots of good actors involved (Judi Dench, for example, Sophie Okenedo, and of course Benedict Cumberbatch as the dastardly Richard III, but Ben and Judi haven't shown up yet...)

Tom Sturridge  and Sophie Okonedo

(c) Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd

I have seen the plays before - the Globe Theatre did all 3 parts of Henry VI in 2013, and I saw them on tour (ad blogged about it here), and they are not, in my view, Shakespeare's best work, but so far I am enjoying what  Dominic Cooke is doing with them. The three plays are compressed into 2, 2 hour episodes, so a good deal is cut,and there are some changes -  but what is left works well.

In this first episode, we have already had the rise and fall of Joan of Arc (Laura Frances-Morgan), the nobilty of England picking roses to declare which side of the coming they will be on, and Richard of York (not that one. his father) putting himself forward as the rightful King (which of course, arguably he was, what with that Bolingbroke having usurped the crown rather than waiting for his older cousin to do so. . .)

Sophie Okonedo is superb as Queen Margaret, I'm looking forward to seeing more of her, and Tom Sturridge, is wonderfully ineffectual as King Henry VI.

I can't wait for the next  episode! This is why I love the BBC!

There's also some particular local interest for me - some of the filming took place in Wells, and spotting parts of Wells Catherdral, standing in for Henry's palace, adds to the fun!
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Last night found me in Bath once again, even though it was a work night and I was knackered and feeling somewhat battered, due to my visit to the Chiropractor on Wednesday (of which more later) 
I was in Bath because the fabulous Mr Mitch Benn was there, performing at Komedia. I haven't been to Komedia before. I've previously seen Mitch at the Rondo Theatre, which is a nice but tiny theatre on the edge of Bath - a bit like a pub with tiered seating. 
Komedia is a converted cinema, all red and blue and gold and fancy plasterwork, and an echo. 
And Mitch Benn is a comedian and singer, and if you don't know him and all his works, you should. Go here and look, go here and download. You know you want to. 
Anyway, I had fortified myself with a nice half of Bellringer Beer and some rather disappointing potato wedges at a pub down the road (Memo to the Westgate Pub - please check the definition of 'crispy' as it applies to bacon, and do not raise expectations which you cannot satisfy) and so was already beginning to de-stress by the time I got to Komedia.
Mr Benn certainly competed the de-stressing process! Having been to several of his gigs before I knew pretty much what to expect . There were lots of songs I was familiar with - 'Sing Like an Angel', 'Size Zero', 'African Baby' 'Now He's Gone' & IKEA.  
There was the wonderful 'Macbeth'

Mitch commented that if you hang around with Thespians, then sooner or later, one of them will come out with the old chestnut that if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be writing Eastenders. Mitch's comment was that no he bloody wouldn't (Doctor Who, maybe, "he's been in it, after all, and Neil' s doing it, so Shakespear can't be far behind" )

'Macbeth' is his take on what Shakespeare might, in fact, write if he were around now. And it's Awesome!

We also had some newer songs; such as the topical "The Pope Wants Vicars" (Which won my heart by rhyming 'Saint Thomas Aquinas' with 'scared of vaginas', and the song which definitely got the biggest cheers of the evening - 
"Proud of the BBC" which is a response to all the selfish tightfisted bastards  individuals who begrudge paying the licence fee and want to destroy privatise the BBC.  It ROCKS. And I especially liked the 'FUCKFUCKFCKFUCKStart again' in the second line, although I suspect that may not actually be part of the official lyrics...
Mitch also did his 'write a new song during the interval' party piece - based on suggstions from the audience about topical news stories, which you've got to admit is impressive. 
All in all, it was a great evening, and I came home with my very own 'Proud of the BBC' T-Shirt.

Of course, the one small fly in my ointment was that being a Thursday night, I still had to get up & go to work in the morning, but what the hell..


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