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Richard III finds his voice in a silent film

A rare, black and white silent film version of Shakespeare’s play Richard III, made in 1911, is to be brought to life with a new ‘voice’, thanks to an academic from the University of York.

In the first project of its type, Judith Buchanan, Professor of Film and Literature and author of Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse, has written a script to accompany this precious 100-year-old piece of cinema and theatre history. The script will be voiced live in a special performance by the cast of the stage production of Richard III which opens at York Theatre Royal this week. 

Classical stage actor Frank Benson as the dastardly Richard who schemes and murders his way to the throne in the silent film version of Richard III

Creating a voice

The screening in the Theatre Royal’s main auditorium on 27 November will include a brief introduction by Professor Buchanan. She will talk about the history of the film and the challenges of creating a voice for a previously silent rendering of one of Shakespeare’s most notorious characters. After the show, there will be a short question and answer session with the cast and Professor Buchanan. 

She said: “Given the vigorous national debate over Richard’s final resting place, it is particularly pleasing that Richard should be given a voice here in York as part of this one-off, ground-breaking early film show.

“Adding live voices to an early silent film makes for a rare and wonderful mixed media performance. The script needs to be properly Shakespearean, but also sympathetically attuned to the particular pace and feel of the action on the screen - and timed exactly to match it.”


The screen version of Richard III features classical stage actor Frank Benson as the dastardly Richard who schemes and murders his way to the throne. The film was recorded on stage at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford.

At the York screening, the role of Richard will be voiced by Ian Bartholomew who is also playing Richard in the Theatre Royal’s stage version. The event will be brought to life musically by John Sweeney on piano.

The Richard III script has been developed as part of Professor Buchanan’s Silents Now project which aims to renew the interest of contemporary audiences in silent cinema.

100-year time gap

Professor Buchanan said: “The cast will be aiming to bridge a time gap of more than 100 years between early 20th century Shakespearean actors and the contemporary cast from today’s theatre production.

“One of the challenges for the actors will be to find a vocal ‘gear’ that will work with the tone and dimensions of the performances on screen in order to help this old film live again, and as never before, for a contemporary audience.”

Further information

The silent film version of Richard III will be screened on 27 November in the Main House at York Theatre Royal starting at 6pm. The event will include an introduction by Professor Judith Buchanan and a short Q and A after the screening