Thursday, May 12, 2016

British History in Film | King John (1984)

Shakespeare's King John isn't one of his most popular plays, but I've always been interested in seeing it as a sort of sequel to the Robin Hood legend. There aren't too many versions available for home viewing, but the 1984 BBC production directed by David Giles and starring Leonard Rossiter is a fine production.

I'm no Shakespeare scholar - or even a super knowledgeable fan - but I wonder about why King John isn't more widely regarded. It has some great speeches and iconic scenes and Giles' version is especially well-performed. Rossiter is fantastic as the selfish, sometimes cowardly John, but George Costigand steals the show as the king's intelligent and humorous bastard nephew, son of the late King Richard. There's also some great casting for a couple of English noblemen, starting with Robert Brown, who was M in the '80s Bond movies.

John Castle is another cool actor who plays a noble. I wouldn't have known him before this project, but he was King John's brother Geoffrey in The Lion in Winter. Geoffrey's dead by the time King John takes place, but his presence is still very much felt. In Lion in Winter, Geoffrey's claim to the throne wasn't supported by either of his parents, but he did have the new king of France (played then by young Timothy Dalton) as an ally. In King John, King Philip is much older, but still supports Geoffrey's family. In fact, the play's drama is kicked off by Philip's insistence that Geoffrey's son is the rightful ruler of England.

There are some speeches that go long in the middle, but I'll sit through those for lopped-off heads and people falling off of castle walls. Sadly, I couldn't find a movie about John's son, Henry III, so next time we'll skip ahead to grandson Edward.

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