Myths Being Revived

Dominic armed - note the helmet's narrow eye slit

I have been watching the BBC’s ‘The Hollow Crown’ with interest, as I have never actually seen the whole of Shakespeare’s Richard III and none of Henry VI (Parts I and II). At first I was appalled at Benedict Cumberbatch’s grotesquely exaggerated portrayal of Richard, but consoled myself by thinking that at least, because people will see that it bears no factual resemblance to his actual spinal condition, it might serve to distance the Bard’s Richard from the real man.

I was to be sadly disillusioned, however, on reading an article published by The Mail On Sunday. It basically states that the production team researched people with “curvature of the spine” and how they would have looked if unable to have it corrected “In order to make the depiction of Richard more accurate.” They also state that:

“Until recently it was assumed Shakespeare had exaggerated Richard’s disability to make him appear more monstrous. That theory was undermined by the discovery of the King’s body in Leicester in 2012”

Read the whole article and  see the depiction for yourself here.
And here is the man with the same curvature showing how Richard would have actually looked. Spot the difference!
Dominic in body armour
I have already complained in the following terms:

“I have seen a report in the Mail on Sunday concerning Benedict Cumberbatch and his portrayal of Richard III in The Hollow Crown. (‘Benedict’s really got the hump’). Towards  the end it states: ‘In order to make the depiction of Richard more accurate, Mallett and Cumberbatch studied the medical histories of those who had curvature of the spine and had not been able to have the condition corrected. Until recently, it was assumed that Shakespeare had exaggerated Richard’s disability to make him appear more monstrous. That theory was undermined by the discovery of the King’s body in Leicester in 2012, and tests showed that he suffered from scoliosis’.

While you may be reporting what the BBC have told you, and while it is correct that Richard suffered from scoliosis, this categorically does not equate to him having a hunchback. If your reporter had done any independent research at all into the condition, they would see that a scoliosis is a sideways curvature, which would not have manifested as a hump in a normal standing position. The only outward sign of the condition would have been one shoulder appearing higher than the other (which is how he was indeed described by contemporaries). As a Registered Osteopath, I am in a position to give an expert opinion on such matters. As a Ricardian, I am appalled that all the hard work we are doing to try to rehabilitate Richard’s reputation can be undermined in this way. Shakespeare’s Richard did have a hunchback, true, but to say that this is an accurate physical depiction of Richard is false and misleading. The public will think that if Richard’s spine was as Shakespeare described (which it isn’t), his character must be too. This prosthetic was obviously used for shock value. Fair enough, but it should be distanced from the real Richard III. There was a ‘body double’ found who had an almost identical curvature of the spine to Richard’s and a documentary made on Channel 4 showed how he could fight, ride and move perfectly normally and, clothed, you wouldn’t know he had the condition. (I have personally met the young man in question and can vouch for that being true). Incidentally, Shakespeare’s (and Cumberbatch’s) depiction of Richard having a withered arm and a limp is also false: Richard had neither. Please publish a correction as soon as possible; it might seem a trivial thing to you but many people really care that Richard was unjustly maligned and it means a lot to us. I would be happy to comment further if you would like to contact me and get an expert opinion instead of sensationalist nonsense.”


  1. I dislike the Mail article on many levels – poor journalism you might expect from a tabloid but the implication that people with scoliosis or hunchbacks are deformed monsters that everyone can be revolted by or sneer at is repugnant. Secondly, the burial clearly showed that Richard’s spinal curvature was nothing like the prosthetics applied for the Hollow Crown. He was also never referred to as limping, dragging his foot, bent over or clutching a useless arm apart from the council scene account supplied by his good old mate Bishop Morton who turned out to be a Tudor spy and who hated Richard on a personal level and is therefore a bit suspect. Thirdly there still seems to be a lingering feeling among the ignorant that if someone looks a bit different they may be evil which hardly seems possible in the C21st but clearly exists in the world of knuckle-dragging tabloid journalism and makes me despair for humanity really.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well said. Many people have been shrugging and saying ‘Oh but it’s Shakespeare, everyone knows it’s a play’ (which I sadly doubt,reading some comments around the net) but if you start claiming certain aspects are ‘accurate’, you better damn well get it correct. The prosthetic was so overdone it was unbelievable, and even if it was based on Richard’s skeleton (which it clearly wasn’t), it seemed to miss the fact that his spine was, uh, inside his body and would have been covered by ligaments, tendons and skin! This cruel depiction was so little like King Richard’s actual scoliosis, it was even on the opposite side of his body, lol!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Here is the response from my BBC complaint: Thank you for contacting us regarding The Hollow Crown.

      I appreciate that you feel the portrayal of Richard III by Benedict Cumberbatch was misleading and inaccurate.

      It’s important to consider that the programme is a dramatic realisation of Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard III. It was not intended to be representative of people with spinal curvature generally. On the contrary, it was specific to Shakespeare’s Richard III and this new production.

      You may be interested in the following BBC Media Centre interview with Benedict Cumberbatch, where he talks about the portrayal and dramatisation, including the real historical figure versus the fictionalised version in Shakespeare. You can also read more about the background to the programme:

      We do appreciate your feedback and comments and I’ve put your complaint about this on a report that is made available to the production team behind The Hollow Crown as well as senior management at the BBC.

      Thank you again for contacting us.

      Kind regards

      Louise Morrison

      BBC Complaints Team

      NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

      I have followed it up and said this is not addressing my concerns. They are actually quoting the interview in reply which, I feel, is the source of the misconception!


  3. Dominic Smee has a fund that people can contribute into! His scoliosis is very close to the condition RIII had as he rode down Ambion Hill. I think pointing out what a good blacksmith can do helps us to establish why the Tudor era mythology is such a sham and a fraud, that Benedict Cumberbatch has fecklessly put his good name and wit to in such an unthinking manner! The more publicity we can give young Dominic, the better! I truly feel he is very brave to be so public, when he did the documentary, some of the armour pieces were borrowed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the case is more serious and it’s better not trying to contact Daily Mail now, but try to contact actual specialists already who conducted the investigation of the bones and made their verdict about how Richard looked like based on his scoliosis.

      I think it was University of Leicester, who did the investigation. It’s also probably better to contact Richard III Society, so they could cooperate with University of Leicester on this and with other medical specialists. Because otherwise BBC, if it’s indeed BBC position on this, would go on claiming this thing (only I don’t get it why they need this?!) and people would believe it. Some Cumberbatch fans already claim it as a fact, that how Cumberbatch looks like in this version is an actual reconstruction of the actual spine of Richard III.

      I think the measures should be taken quite promptly.


      1. I am an osteopath and, as such, have the authority to comment on this – I know the Scoliosis association of UK has also complained, but we cannot speak for the Richard III Society. I know Phil Stone did object to the portrayal, although I don’t know if they are aware of the false claims. I can contact them and see what their plans are. Perhaps if we all email the RIII Soc they will act.


  4. I think due to the seriousness of the question Scoliosis association of UK, University of Leicester and all those qualified specialists who worked on Richard’s remains and the matter of his scoliosis , should all be contacted on the matter in order for them to work out cooperated common ground position to counter these claims, backed by medical and scientifcal evidence and points. As for RIII Society they should be contacted on the matter, but I think not too rushly and they should be asked not to react immediately in public (posting something on the site for example as soon as they learn of it or going at once to the press) without securing support first from medical scientifical community (University, Association, etc.), otherwise they won’t help, they will be ignored or laughed at and maybe even make things worse.
    If BBC really tries to revive the myth by using the fig leaf of real remains of Richard (I wonder why they do that actually?), it’s really not pretty.


    1. I don’t actually think it is the BBC trying to revive the myth – it started apparently from an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch where he was asked how could the real Richard be reconciled with with the Shakespeare version and he failed to answer the question, only concentrating on the Shakespeare aspect and was misunderstood. But the newspapers who misconstrued BC’s comments need to issue a retraction/apology.

      Whilst it would be great if all those bodies/authorities you mention would come together to refute it, I can’t see it happening. I don’t think it is necessary either, in that anyone who looks at the reconstruction of Richard’s spine (the 3dD one) or the documentary with Dominic Smee can clearly see that the Hollow Crown prosthetic is not the same. It doesn’t take a medical expert to refute this as it is obvious to anyone with eyes. The problem is that the general public may not have seen the 3D spine or the documentary and believe what the press say. That being said, I am a spinal expert, so my complaints are taken more seriously than someone who is a Ricardian without any other expertise. I think the more complaints they get, the better.


      1. Daily Mail was not the first who wrote it. Radio Times earlier wrote this.

        Where could Radio Times get such crazy idea that it replicates his hump (he never had_ and replicates his scoliosis exactly if not from BBC itself? You couldn’t take it from an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch. Because he talks there only about the play and script based on it, not about real remains of real Richard. Unless they went a really long way to pull it from there, somehow, and made it completely up. But then why?
        The “it is obvious to anyone with eyes” doesn’t work, because if general public doesn’t know about 3D spine or the documentary or official statements from those scientists who investigated remains and there are no refutations, they would repeat the thing they read about this version in several media articles.

        BTW, here how prosthetics applied for the Hollow Crown look in close up on him. They want to tell us that this is really how real Richard III looked like? Really?


  5. BTW, it’s not about Hollow Crown, it’s on different topic. Maybe you heard. Leicester City won PL and many in the press attributed it to Richard III bringing city luck.
    There was BBC documentary – Leicester’s Impossible Dream – Gary Lineker’s Story of the 2015/16 Season
    You can watch it here:
    Watch beginning, they talk about Richard III there, finding him, his funeral and hint how mass show of respect to the dead King inspired the city-to win PL.
    It was very nice and touching.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Will you make a separate post about it here with link to this Leicester documentary? Just as information on how Richard is mentioned in modern times in positive context, in this case in relation to this football story? The documentary was shown on BBC, it also can’t be pretended to being some creation or fantasy of Ricardians, since they had nothing to do with this documentary 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a reply to the comment about Hollow Crown. AN interview with BC is on the BBC website, which is where both the Daily Mail and Radio Times sourced their info, or so it seems. This is the question that is answered ambiguously – you can see how it might be possible to misconstrue BC’s comments about Shakespeare’s Richard as referring to the real Richard.

      ‘How do you reconcile the play with the historical Richard III, whose remains were recently discovered?’

      Physicality has always been at the centre of playing Richard III. He is very clearly described as being a hunchback with disproportionate legs. His physicality is there in the play and the script, in his own analysis and in other people’s name-calling. It is unavoidable.

      On camera, anatomical accuracy is even more important because of the scrutiny provided by the lens. In the opening shots of Richard III we have the character topless, so you can see every detail of the curvature of his spine. It took me about 3-4 hours to put on the prosthetics. The weight of the silicone is incredible. It’s painted to match the skin tone and it looks distressingly real. By contrast, on stage Richard’s body has always been something to hide.

      Here is the whole interview if you want to read it:


      1. I know this interview. I read it. There is nothing said about real Richard’s looks by BC or Richard’s remains, so I fail to see how DM or RT were able to pull such statements they make out of this interview. It requires a great amount of reach to do that.

        Have you seen the photos of prosthetics I posted above? It’s pretty insulting and unrealistic to claim that this is how real Richard looke liked, they look like they came from Alien movies.

        BC fans now post even links to this documentary and you know what they write? That this documentary about “Richard III and how his hunch may have addled him by reconstructing his spine from his remains ” despite this documentary shows quite the opposite. They say he really had a hunch!


      2. It is this part of the interview that I think may have been misconstrued – The question asked about the real and the Shakespeare Richard and this bit could be taken as referring to the real Richard (we know it isn’t, but I can see how it could happen): “On camera, anatomical accuracy is even more important because of the scrutiny provided by the lens. In the opening shots of Richard III we have the character topless, so you can see every detail of the curvature of his spine. It took me about 3-4 hours to put on the prosthetics. The weight of the silicone is incredible. It’s painted to match the skin tone and it looks distressingly real.”


  6. Worse, Benedict Cumberbatch has a perfectly normal back that he assumes can be modified by the stage prop to look as if it were RIII’s back, he is taller than RIII and ends up with something out of a horror movie. He did not think through how the ribs are actually displaced if one has that particular medical condition to the same degree. He cannot approximate RIII’s back. Period. Dominic Smee allowed his own back to be photographed. This is how and why we all have a very good idea of what RIII’s back must have looked like in adulthood. here is quite a difference, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If one is being literal about Shakespeare’s text, it behooves one to explain why one is not copying Laurence Olivier, and what interpretation one is giving to the play itself.


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