Based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, deformed Richard wants to be king, and he lies, kills, and uses any trick he can to eliminate his competition and be crowned; but he quickly alienates even more people and soon faces a challenger in a battle in which he is abandoned.
King Edward IV (Cedric Hardwicke) is crowned and holds court. He asks the dukes George of Clarence (John Gielgud) and Richard of Gloucester (Laurence Olivier) to kiss his queen Elizabeth (Mary Kerridge) and his young son Edward (Paul Huson). After everyone leaves, Richard shares his thoughts about the change from war to peace. He is deformed like chaos and has nothing to do in a time of peace. He finds no joy but to dream of a crown. He can smile and murder and be an orator. He sees mourning Lady Anne (Clair Bloom) walking by outside. He plans to wed her even though he killed her husband. She tells them to put the coffin down while she mourns. She cries over the body and curses the man who stabbed him. When they begin to proceed, Richard stops them. Anne calls him a devil and shows him what he did. He says he did not kill her husband. She wishes him in hell, but he wants to be in her bedchamber. She spits in his face and walks on.
Richard says he will have her but not keep her. Marrying her is part of his plan. He first must get rid of Clarence and Edward. He will spread prophecies about Clarence’s death. Richard whispers in the ear of King Edward, who then sends for Clarence. Richard has laid plots to make Edward and Clarence hate each other. He watches the King order Clarence confined. Richard asks George of Clarence why he is going to the Tower. Clarence says it is because of prophecies that the murderer will be G. Richard says it is the Queen who does it. Richard tells Clarence he will plead for him to the King. Richard says he will send Clarence’s soul to heaven soon.
Richard sees Anne praying at a tomb and asks her if the cause of her husband’s death is most responsible. He says her beauty is the cause of the murder, and he can love her better. He tells her that her beauty has made him weep. He gives her his sword and tells her to kill him for what he did, though he did it because of her. She says she will not be his executioner. He tells her to bid him kill himself, but she tells him to put up his sword. He asks if he can live in hope and gives her a ring, putting it on her finger and saying his heart is hers. They kiss, and she walks off in a daze. He is amazed at how she was wooed and won. She finds him to be more than he does himself.
Queen Elizabeth says that if the King dies, Richard will be the protector of her son. Richard has King Edward sign Clarence’s death warrant. Now Edward can die.
In the Tower Clarence awakes and tells Brackenbury (Andrew Cruickshank) that he had nightmares. In the dream Richard knocked him into the sea, and he felt he was drowning. Then he thought he was in hell. He lays down to sleep. Richard sees the duke of Buckingham (Ralph Richardson) and Catesby, who says the King has given Clarence a reprieve and hands it to him. Brackenbury tells them that no one may talk with Clarence. Hastings (Alec Clune) has just been released, and he talks with them. They say the King is trying to resolve their conflicts, but Richard defends himself. Elizabeth says that Richard envies her, and they argue about who got Clarence arrested. She complains of his accusations and says she will complain to her husband. Rivers (Clive Morton) says they obey the King and would obey Richard if he was king. Richard says they should pray for their enemies.
Richard sees the two executioners, gives them the warrant, and tells them to be quick, and not listen to Clarence pleading. They show the warrant to Brackenbury who says he is ordered to deliver Clarence to them. As soon as Clarence wakes, they stab him. He asked for wine, and so they put his head down a barrel of wine.
Edward is in bed and asks Hastings and Rivers to shake hands as friends. Edward tries to end factions and has Hastings kiss Elizabeth’s hand. Buckingham says he will be a friend and kisses her hand too. Richard comes in, and Edward says they have done deeds of charity. Richard asks for reconciliation also. He kisses Elizabeth’s hand and shakes hands with the others. Elizabeth pleads for Clarence, but Richard says he is dead. Edward says the order was reversed, but Richard says it was too late. Edward remembers how Clarence helped him, and he feels weak. King Edward dies, and Elizabeth cries. They plan to crown Prince Edward. After the others leave, Buckingham tells Richard they should go to the prince also.
Dorset brings the news to Queen Elizabeth that her brother Rivers and Grey were sent to prison by Richard and Buckingham. Elizabeth says she and the young duke of York will take sanctuary, and the Archbishop (Nicholas Hannen) takes them. On a snowy street Richard welcomes the young prince Edward, who asks where his mother and brother York are. Stanley arrives and says they took sanctuary. Buckingham tells the Archbishop to persuade York to come to his brother, but he refuses. Buckingham makes a joke of it, and laughter spreads.
Richard tells Buckingham how to slander the young king. Richard tells Edward he shall reside in the Tower. Richard and Buckingham make plans. Young Richard of York comes in and talks with his brother Edward. Richard welcomes York, who asks for his dagger and sword. When York asks him to bear him on his shoulder, Richard glares at him. York does not want to live in the Tower because Clarence died there, but they go. Buckingham asks Richard what they will do if Hastings does not yield to their plots, and Richard says chop off his head. Buckingham sends Catesby to Hastings to summon him to the Tower. Richard tells him to have Hastings give mistress Shaw a kiss.
Catesby tells Hastings to flee north with Stanley. Hastings says he will not flee. Catesby tells Hastings that Richard should be king and that Hastings’ enemies Rivers and Grey are being executed. Hastings goes to the Tower and sees Buckingham on the way.
At a meeting Hastings suggests they discuss planning the coronation. Richard comes in and agrees with Hastings. Richard sends the Archbishop out for strawberries. Richard confers with Buckingham, who says that Hastings does not favor him. Richard promises Buckingham the earldom of Hereford. The Archbishop comes back with the strawberries, and the men move near him and away from Hastings. Richard comes back and asks what they deserve who conspire to kill him. Hastings says they deserve death. Richard accuses Shaw of witchcraft and calls Hastings a traitor who shall be beheaded. Hastings is arrested, and he predicts the others will die soon too. Hastings is executed.
Buckingham tells Richard how he tried to get the people to support him as king. Buckingham goes outside to lead the people in summoning Richard. Buckingham gets a message from Catesby. Richard walks on a balcony praying with a Bible. Buckingham appeals to Richard to accept the crown, but Richard shuns his request. The citizens entreat him, and Buckingham gives up. Richard says to call the people back, and he tells them he will accept. Buckingham says he will be crowned tomorrow, and they cheer. Richard makes Buckingham kneel and kiss his hand.
Elizabeth gives her crown to Anne, who says Richard hates her. Stanley advises Dorset to go to Richmond.
Richard is crowned king and Anne queen. Richard sits on the throne, and Anne collapses. Then she walks out. Richard thanks Buckingham and hints that young Edward and York still live. He wants them dead. He asks for Buckingham’s consent, but he puts him off and walks away. Richard summons Catesby and asks him who can be tempted by gold. Richard decides to put aside Buckingham, and he asks Stanley for news. Stanley says Dorset fled to Richmond. Richard tells Catesby to spread a rumor that his wife Anne is sick. Richard plans to wed brother Edward’s daughter. Buckingham comes back and asks for his gift of Hereford. Richard ignores him and speaks to Stanley. Richard orders Stanley to leave behind his son. Richard recalls that a prophecy that Richmond shall be king. Richard gets angry at Buckingham for pestering him and says he does not feel like giving. Buckingham leaves. Richard sends a murderer to smother the two boys in the Tower. He and another man do the deed as the boys sleep in the same bed.
Stanley sends a message to Richmond that he is restrained because of his son. Richard says his wife has died. He decides to woo young Elizabeth before Richmond can. Richard learns that Buckingham fled to Richmond. Richard sends Catesby to raise a force. Stanley comes in, and says that Richmond is coming to claim the crown. Richard asks him to raise his friends in the west. Messengers come in with bad news, but then they say that Buckingham was captured. Richard orders him beheaded. Richmond is arriving in England. Richard runs out to prepare.
Richard orders his tent pitched on Bosworth Field. Richard says they have three times as many men. He sends an order to Stanley to bring his force, or his son will die. Stanley receives the message, gets on his horse, and rides to Henry of Richmond (Stanley Baker). Stanley says he cannot be forward, but he wishes Richmond well.
That night Richard asks for ink and paper, and he sends Norfolk to the watch. In his tent Richard asks for wine. In his camp Richmond says he will take a nap, but first he prays for victory. In his tent Richard sees the ghosts of Clarence, his two nephews, Hastings, and Anne. Richard cries out and asks for another horse. In the morning Richard tells Ratcliffe he is afraid. Richard tells Catesby that the sun will not shine today. Richard gives orders how to position his men. They see the enemy coming. Richard says that conscience is a word for cowards. He mounts his horse and urges his men to fight. The two sides meet and battle. Stanley is holding back. The men stop fighting and go over to the other side. Richard orders Stanley’s son beheaded. Richard speaks to his men, but they are few. He leads a charge, but he fights alone. His crown is knocked off and rolls away. An archer kills his horse, and he kills the archer. He runs. Catesby calls for Norfolk to rescue the King. Richards calls for a horse and claims he has slain six men dressed as Richmond. Richard is surrounded, and Stanley comes to fight him first; but he is joined by others, and Richard is slain. His body is tied on a horse. Stanley finds the crown in a bush and holds it up.
This classic history play portrays a Machiavellian Richard III who is as immoral as his body is deformed. Although he reaches his goal temporarily, his violent methods turn even his allies into enemies until everyone seems to be against him.