Film investors’ fear of the Bard is burying my Richard II, says James Ivory | Film

He directed Merchant-Ivory classics such as The Remains of the Day, Howards End and A Room with a View, but American director James Ivory is struggling to interest investors in his latest project. The problem, it seems, lies with his writer: William Shakespeare. For more than five years, Ivory has tried in vain to raise money for a cinema adaptation of Richard II.

Despite 50 years of critical acclaim and Oscar recognition, plus British actors Tom Hiddleston and Damian Lewis lined up to star in his production, financiers are refusing to part with their money. “They look at you like you’re crazy,” he said. “There is an assumption that there is no money to be made from such an investment.”

This is despite the proliferation of royal dramas on our small screens in the past couple of years, from Wolf Hall to Victoria, to more modern versions of the British monarchy such as The Crown and an imagined future in King Charles III. Even the frenzy around Richard III since the discovery of his skeleton in Leicester five years ago has failed to ignite enthusiasm for the other Richard, it seems.

Ivory’s screenplay is written by Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for Argo, Ben Affleck’s 2012 thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Potential investors praise the script and describe the project as a “terrific idea”, said Ivory, “but nobody comes forward with the money”.

He needs around £15m, which he says is “nothing as far as movies are concerned these days, but no one seems to want to take the risk”.

This is not the first time Ivory has tried to get Richard II off the ground. It appears that Kenneth Branagh put the kibosh on a previous production in 1992, around the time Merchant and Ivory were making The Remains of the Day.

“I had another cast. Daniel Day-Lewis as Richard II and Kenneth Branagh as Bolingbroke, or Henry IV as he becomes, and Emma Thompson as the queen,” said Ivory. “And then, unfortunately, Branagh said ‘I couldn’t play Bolingbroke, I’d have to play Richard’.

“We were about to make another movie anyway, so I let it go and we didn’t proceed with it.”



Actor Damian Lewis is all set to star in Richard II, if James Ivory can find the money to fund the film. Photograph: Gary Gershoff/WireImage

Ivory, 89, founded Merchant Ivory with his production partner, the late Ismail Merchant, and collaborated on many films with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

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