Imagine your delight as you board the double-decker ahead of a whistle-stop tour around London’s historic sights, as you are welcomed aboard by none other than Sir Ian McKellen. That possibility has become a very strong probability for a limited number of fortunate visitors, thanks to the British Film Institute’s Shakespeare on Film programme that was launched this week by the distinguished actor.

Spot of moonlighting for McKellen

The noted thespian – better known as Gandalf to millions of “Lord of the Rings” fans – seems set to take time away from his stage and screen commitments for a spot of moonlighting.

However, it’s all in a good cause as he seeks to incorporate his own distinctive enthusiasm for the Bard into the tour of some of the locations utilised whilst filming the 1995 adaptation of “Richard III”.

McKellen – who played the title role – will provide the narrative for the tour of several historic sites featured in the film itself. With such diverse locations as the Tate Modern, St Pancras station and even the gas holders of east London to choose from, there should be something for everyone.

Marking Shakespeare’s death

The BFI’s initiative is part of an ambitious wider programme planned this year to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616.

Enthusiasm towards the concept

McKellan’s keenness to be the tour leader is no doubt sparked by the fact that the idea was his own.

He told the assembled reporters that he thought that “it might be fun to take a bus tour around the sites of Richard III,” allowing those on board to watch a scene from the film “and then arrive at the actual location.”

The head curator for the BFI, Robin Baker, also enthused about the novel concept. Although he was unable to confirm how many appearances Sir Ian would be able to fit in to his busy workload, he commented that it was “a special event” and that those who enjoyed the experience would be “pretty lucky people.”

Star-studded adaptation

The 1995 film featured a galaxy of stars in an imaginative updating of the original play.

Set in 1930s Britain with a fictional fascist state in place, McKellen shared the limelight with American actors Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. A host of major British stars including Dame Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Kristin Scott Thomas completed the stellar cast, with Richard Loncraine adding his talents as the film’s director.

It was notable for the rather unorthodox usage of famous British landmarks in the action, invoking special effects to transport them to alternative locations. St Pancras railway station, for example, became the seat of government for King Edward IV at Westminster.