Roland Emmerich might be dementedly banging his apocalyptic drum of despair trying to disprove that William Shakespeare ever put pen to paper, but the playwright’s work has never been more popular, despite him popping his clogs almost four centuries ago. Ralph Fiennes already has his revisionist version of “Coriolanus” on the horizon, and just yesterday a more ethnically diverse version of “Romeo and Juliet” was announced, to co-star Vera Farmiga, Alan Arkin and Shirley MacLaine.
Julie Taymor, meanwhile, is an old hand at this sort of wackadoo needling of familiar material, as anyone who’s come across her dubious reworkings of the Bard’s work will know – to date “Titus” and the less-than-enthusiastically received “The Tempest.” Now, according to Screen Daily, British actor Eddie Marsan has a new version of the Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” entitled “Pell Mell” written, and he’s looking to direct and star in the material himself; seemingly thanks to the encouragement of his “Vera Drake” and “Happy Go Lucky” collaborator Mike Leigh. Marsan’s uniquely earth-shattering pitch to set it apart from the extant Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier performances captured on celluloid and, uh, the 2008 one featuring David Carradine in a prominent role? It’ll be set in the — cough — untouched hinterland of the 1960s.
Whether or not the Shakespeare angle is what’s getting this off the ground (with such pliable cultural cachet up the ying yang and a back catalogue of thirty-seven plays, we imagine the playwright must be any movie executive’s wet dream) Marsan’s a reliable and known quantity in front of the camera, if not behind. He’s done his fair share of work in anonymous Hollywood fare (“Hancock,” “Sherlock Holmes”) as well as taking one of the lead roles in the generally underseen “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” and the upcoming “Junkhearts.” He’s also just coming off the buzzed-about “Tyrannosaur,” itself directed by an actor taking a crack at directing for the first time, Paddy Considine, and drenched in customary English grim-up-north miserablism that served Gary Oldman well in “Nil By Mouth.” And whilst Kevin Spacey is currently the toast of the London theatre world in a Sam Mendes production of the very same work Marsan’s circling, he’d no doubt fit the archetypal theatrical representation of the character as a snarling “deformed” hunch-back.
The project seems to take its name from one of the most famous lines of the play – “March on, ioine brauelie, let us to it pell mell, If not to heaven then hand in hand in hell.” – and is, at least, a welcome change of pace from the spate of recent British films that have exalted benign royalty out of all proportion. We’re a bit dubious about what the 1960s setting will entail exactly, given the unwelcome preponderance to set British films there that are patronizing toward the social and political complexity of the period (ahem, “Pirate Radio,” “Made in Dagenham”) or just brazenly ride off a ridiculous “Quadrophenia” aesthetic for no specific reason (see the recent soulless “Brighton Rock” remake), plus the fact the play is very loosely based on actual historical events. But the company behind the production, Warp Films, generally don’t hew towards the nostalgic period dramas of yore, ushering the work of directors like Chris Morris and Shane Meadows to the screen, and the attached producers (Robin Gutch, Peter Carlton) have an impressive resumé that includes “Touching the Void” and “Hunger” between them.
Of course, this is exceptionally early on in the film-making process with producer Carlton keen to point out that financing and casting are not yet in place, but stressing Marsan’s “brilliant vision” nonetheless. Should they want to mix it up, though, instead of having their characters ride around on scooters, dropping superfluous references to flower power whilst tie-dying miniskirts and bopping to a Joe Cocker record, they could change tack entirely and set it on Jupiter or in a Uzbekistan glue factory or something.
Production on “Pell Mell” is expected to begin next year.