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Das Boot (TV series 2018)
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The Snowman (2017)
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Majestic decline of Joseph Fiennes
The Guardian By Michael Billington @billicritic
First published on Thu 15 Mar 2001 00.00 GMT
Marlowe's hectic chronicle has always been overshadowed by Richard II: although both plays deal with flawed, deposed kings, Shakespeare's shows vastly greater political insight. But the fascinating thing about Joseph Fiennes's performance in Michael Grandage's production is that it shows us a man, like Richard, educated through suffering. The lower Fiennes falls, the higher he rises spiritually.
At first, Fiennes's Edward is recklessly frivolous. He snogs his minion, Piers Gaveston, in front of his blustering barons and treats his wife, Isabella, with casual contempt, airily crying: "Let her droop and pine." His lack of political nous is also shown by the way he allows an aged Bishop to be ducked in the public drains, thereby stirring the church's vengeful wrath. But I've seen other actors, including Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen, bring out Edward's myopic hedonism more effectively. And, at first, there is something a bit subfusc about Grandage's production: far from being adorned in "proud fantastic liveries", James D'Arcy's open-shirted Gaveston would raise few eyebrows at a gay disco, while the hectoring nobles look like motorway-maintenance men.
But both Fiennes and the production rise superbly to the spectacle of Edward's decline. Having capered dutifully, Fiennes acquires a specific gravity as his kingdom disintegrates after Gaveston's death. The key moment comes when, having donned a monkish habit, he cries, "Father, this life contemplative is heaven." It's as if he has suddenly awoken to the bliss of introspection. Fiennes's voice also takes on a dry, sardonic quality as, in anticipation of Richard, he mockingly hands over the crown. And, at the last, he becomes a muddied martyr as his imprisoned head, in a vicious echo of the earlier scene, is plunged into the castle sewage. Fiennes's true gift is for inwardness; and, through his graceful stealth, he elevates Marlowe's rhetorical homily into true tragedy.
Grandage's production, however, is much more than a one-man show. Fiennes's quality is matched by that of Lloyd Owen, a fast-rising classical actor, as a haughty, excellently spoken Mortimer. So avid is he for power and sex he becomes extremely testy when the cunnilingus he is about to perform on Jo McInnes's enthroned Isabella is needlessly interrupted. Jamie Sives as Lightborne, who kills the king with some peculiarly nasty pokerwork, is also a figure of sinister eroticism; as he straddles the prone king he becomes a strange echo of the more beneficently probing Gaveston.
Marlowe's play lacks tonal variety and political subtlety. But Grandage's production avoids boom and bust, is emblematically designed by Christopher Oram so that suspended blue banners tell us when we are in France, and is brilliantly lit by Tim Mitchell, with both diagonal illumination and vertical walls of light. The real triumph, however, lies in the production's discovery in Edward of a tragic hero who acquires majesty only by losing kingship.
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