Ian McKellen Official Home Page

 Screenplay by Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine




CAPTION. This was only agreed once the film was complete. I should have preferred to do without it, as the long, wordless prologue (scenes 1-13) gradually introduces the faces of the principal players and hints at their relationships. Before Richard's first speech, it is important to understand that his story develops against the background of a civil war. The caption explains this rather less extensively than Shakespeare's King Henry VI trilogy about the Wars of the Roses! In the film, the less advance warning the better - enough for the audience to know that a rebel army is closing in on the reigning King.


In the countryside away from the capital, KING HENRY'S forces have requisitioned a small-scale stately home for their temporary military headquarters.

The drawing-room is comfortable and traditionally decorated - chintz combined with velvet and brocades. From the rose of an ornately plastered ceiling hangs a discreet chandelier. The mullioned windows are shuttered against spying eyes. Coals burn red in the marbled fireplace.
Cables snake down the walls, bringing electricity for telephones and lighting to the military occupants. Harsh, bare lightbulbs. A large, operations map of England is pinned onto a tapestry.

KING HENRY embraces his beloved son and heir, PRINCE EDWARD, and retires for the night, through double-doors to his makeshift, bedroom sanctuary. An armed CORPORAL stands easy outside.

PRINCE EDWARD, with his long-haired RETRIEVER for company, quietly settles down to a night of paperwork. An ADJUTANT brings a tray with the Prince's supper.

PRINCE EDWARD sits at a large desk, illuminated by an anglepoisc lamp. As he eats, reads and makes notes, he adjusts the position of the silver-framed photo of his beloved wife, LADY ANNE.

Scene I was devised by RL to establish the 1930s setting and to present the militaristic background to the civilian politics of the film. It has startling sound effects, no music and only a few scarcely distinguishable words. 

The set of the country mansion was originally built and designed for a BBC TV production by our production designer Tony Burrough. Rather than throw them in the incinerator. Tony had rescued the walls of timber and canvas and, at his own cost, stored them for a rainy day in a warehouse in the north of England, whence they were brought south to Spitfire Studios in Middlesex and re-erected and furnished. This was a generous gift, as the set was to be destroyed on camera. Unless it's RL, I've never seen a harder worker than Tony. 

He looked at various stately homes of England in which to film. He says: "We decided they were too safe and we wanted to be brave. We were creating our own world, our own history of the 1930s and our invention of what might have happened if Britain had been involved in a civil war sixty years ago. We decided we wanted to find eccentric places and turn them into elements of the story." (So the scenery was never to be just decoration and glamour for their own sakes.) 

"We decided Victorian Gothic was a nice way of placing King Edward's court in a traditional context. When Richard takes over, he moves his headquarters away from the palace into accommodation derivative of Speer's Berlin or Mussolini's Rome. 

'We drew on elements we liked about the look of the 1930s as they really were and used them as keys. The costumes, for example, were very specific to 1936. Shuna Harwood, the costume designer, scoured the vintage clothing stores of London and Pans for 30s originals. We're using 30s furniture and props and architecture that has survived from the 30s. The style of the picture, however, is heightened reality. We haven't been slavish to period detail. Some things which might not be accurate look perfect in context. That's the great thing about movies: you can cheat. We didn't compromise - Richard Loncraine is very uncompromising!'

There are soft sounds of normal, peaceful activity - scratch of PRINCE EDWARD'S pen, scrape of fork on china, ticking of a grandfather clock. The only sense of war is the Morse code receiver clicking outside in the Hall.

The alert dog hears it first. An unidentifiable creaking rumble. Is it getting louder? PRINCE EDWARD looks up from his desk and rises to open a shutter and peer outside. The whimpering dog is more interested in the opposite outer wall. His sudden barking is drowned by an unholy roar.

PRINCE EDWARD turns - to see the entire wall cave in, as an army tank enters the drawing-room. Furniture is crushed and priceless plaster falls and chokes the air. Before he can react, a rifle shot splatters the back of his head across a painting of an idyllic rural scene. The GUARD and ADJUTANT are also shot.
Then the electricity fails and the lights go out. An explosion and a ball of fire backlight the tank lodged in the shattered wall.

Through the flames and the acrid smoke, RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, in full battle-gear and disguised by a gas mask, emerges from behind the tank, leading half a dozen COMMANDOS.

As the tank's appearance could not be rehearsed nor repeated, four cameras filmed its one-and-only entrance. I suggested that the silence after its deafening arrival could be broken by footsteps of panic, preferably in time to the iambic pentameter thud of 'de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum'. It was explained that panic is rarely regular. So, instead, I breathed rhythmically through the gas-mask. It is appropriate that Richard's face should at first sight be masked - as are his feelings from the world.

Two of PRINCE EDWARD'S AIDES-DE-CAMP dash through from the Hall, to be promptly shot by the invaders. RICHARD checks that PRINCE EDWARD is safely dead, then moves over to the double-doors. He kicks them open. Kneeling, mumbling a prayer, is the old KING. He looks up, at the dark figure in the doorway. A burst from RICHARD'S Sten gun and the old KING'S frail body is thrown back across the bed by a hail of bullets.

The long civil war is over.

mumbling a prayer. 'holy king Henry' of the Henry VI trilogy.
RICHARD turns into CAMERA. At his feet, the DOG never stops howling.



DOG. cf. 'dogs bark at me as I pass by them' (I. l).
CREDITS OVER the New Order as it prepares to celebrate its victory. CREDITS. Music is heard for the first time as the credits arc shown. In an earlier draft, the new royal family was seen on black-and-white ncwsreel, an idea we abandoned here but retained in scene 91.