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Introduction Part 4

There were half-a-dozen cinemas in the northern town of Wigan, where I was brought up in the 1940s. that changed their programmes once or twice a week. Most of them were rather grubby and visiting them was not a glamorous outing. The carpets were threadbare, the toilets smelly and the seats rickety. The back row had double-seats, with no arm-rests to divide courting couples from each other's attentions in the dark. We watched the movie screen through the brightly lit haze of cigarette smoke that floated up and along the beam from the projectionist's lantern. Pipes and cigars were not permitted. In the intervals between the trailers and the adverts and again between the Pathe or Movietone Newsreel and the 'B' movie and again between more ads and the Big Feature, watery ice-creams were on sale from the pinafored salesgirls who sauntered up and down the steep aisles, waving their flashlights between the maroon, velvet rows. These were the flea-pits where dreams and fantasies bred among the germs.

My parents didn't go to the pictures very often. As a family we preferred the theatre, whether the local Hippodrome, with its weekly diet of thrillers, comedies and farces or Manchester's Palace and Opera House where meatier fare was served, en route for the West End. Long before I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for the summer festival of Shakespeare, I discovered his plays at the amateur Little Theatres in Wigan and nearby Bolton and in the big touring productions from the Old Vic. Shakespeare has ever since dominated my lifelong passion for the theatre. Knowledge of his plays helped with my entrance examinations for Cambridge University, where some success in undergraduate amateur dramatics suggested that I might be good enough to become a professional actor. I promised my sceptical father that I would give it a go for a couple of years before abandoning acting for teaching or journalism or, more likely, for unemployment.

During the last very fulfilling thirty-five years, my sorties into screen-acting have been few, more by chance than intention. Long-term contracts with Prospect, RSC and RNT have inhibited a career in films. Yet during the three years it has taken to realise the film of Richard III, I have often recalled a decisive moment predating any serious ambition to be an actor, let alone a film-actor.
In l958 I saw Laurence Olivier's Richard III at the Odeon Cinema in Bolton. A spell was cast as I watched the shadows of great actors and I had continued my juvenile sense that Shakespeare was for everybody. I hope that today's young audience might feel something similar when they see our film.
Ian McKellen, London EI4, November 1995

The unit photographer plays a vital role by recording each scene as it is shot. The first public images of Richard III before the trailer and film-clips, were Alex Bailey's evocative stills, 59 of which illustrate this Screenplay. The Screenplay has 126 scenes. Other numbering (eg. I.I) refer to the acts and scenes of standard editions of the play.

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