The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch's starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo's excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she's the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity - alongside that of so many others - in something most palpable.
Cooke's direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III's monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne.
And has been the case for all of these films, it was the women who made it for me. Phoebe Fox's exquisite Lady Anne just made me long for her return to the London stage, Keeley Hawes muted some of Elizabeth's rage with interesting results and Judi Dench was impressively restrained as the embittered Duchess of York. I liked that the Princess Elizabeth got a physical presence (she is rarely seen on stage as she gets no lines) and Okonedo's Margaret remains one of the strongest performances on television this year.
Cumberbatch wisely underplays the despotic extremes of the titular monarch to make him a more pathetic being, a reading that worked well throughout, and it was good to see the likes of Al Weaver (Rivers), Matthew Needham (Basset) and Ivanno Jeremiah (Blunt) in smaller supporting roles. Truth be told I was a little underwhelmed by Luke Treadaway's Richmond and Ben Daniels' Buckingham, neither really standing out as interesting takes on the characters but then I'm picky like that. Still, a worthy finale to a strong second cycle (reviews of Part I and Part II) which might well be the last if Whittingdale gets his way (though I hear rumours that the Roman plays are being considered next).
Photos: Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd