Sir Ian McKellen is set for a temporary career change when he becomes a tour guide as part of a Shakespeare film festival.
The actor, who will host public bus tours of the London locations used in Richard III which he starred in more than 20 years ago, also suggested that Shakespeare should probably never be taught. The event is part of BFI Presents Shakespeare on Film – billed as the biggest ever programme of Shakespeare on screen in the UK and across the world. It will explore how filmmakers have adapted, been inspired by and interpreted Shakespeare’s work for the big screen.
Sir Ian is spearheading the project and will travel around the world to present and discuss the great writer’s work on screen. He starred in and co-adapted Richard III in 1995, directed and co-adapted by Richard Loncraine, alongside a glittering cast including Dame Maggie Smith, Annette Bening and Jim Broadbent. With the film set in the 1930s and shot largely on location in London, Sir Ian will be hosting public bus tours of the locations in the film – from St Pancras station and Tate Modern, to Battersea Power Station and Hackney’s haunting gas holders.
When asked what he would say to people who find Shakespeare boring due to unpleasant school day memories, Sir Ian said a lot of people are “put off” Shakespeare by the way it is taught in schools. He told the Press Association: “I feel the same about chemistry you know, but it would be ridiculous to deny that chemistry is an important part of human existence. And I think the same is true of Shakespeare. Yeah, an awful lot of people are put off Shakespeare by the way it’s taught in schools. And I think probably it should never be taught. If you want to come into contact with Shakespeare you should go and see a play in the theatre and discover the delights of being in the presence of actors who are telling the story, and what story, and what language to tell the story. And professional Shakespeare actors spend their lives working out how to make the text clear, and understandable and exciting. And it’s only in that way I think that you can get to the heart of what is very, very special about Shakespeare.”
Sir Ian said one of his favourite screen adaptations is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. He said to modernise the setting, which is what Luhrmann does in his film, is “extremely helpful” and also what Shakespeare would have liked.
Richard III will be simulcast across UK cinemas on April 28 with a post-film on-stage discussion between Sir Ian and Loncraine live from BFI Southbank. The BFI’s programme, which launches on March 31, will feature an international tour – with screenings in Cuba, Iraq, Russia and the USA.