Loosely based on true events, What Richard Did is the story of a Dublin teenager on the cusp of manhood. Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) has it all - the adoring family, the awe and respect of his peers as captain of the rugby team and the prospects of a carefree summer before university. When newcomer to the scene Lara catches Richard's eye, his friendship with fellow teammate Conor (Sam Keeley) becomes tenuous when it's apparent Richard isn't the only one to notice Lara. Struggling to accept the friendship between Conor and Lara, Richard's jealously grows, albeit in an initially passive-aggressive manner.What unfolds is a story of unprecedented violence and guilt that is haunting for both Richard and the audience.
What Richard Did is essentially a "fall of a hero" tale. Richard is the archetypal hero figure - the golden boy of his milieu. He's the stereotypical apple of his parent's eyes (especially his fathers, which only sets him up for a greater fall when events unfold), looked up to with awe and respect by the younger members of the rugby clique and fawned over by girls. Richard however is not one who carries this admiration with arrogance. He is well mannered and polite to his elders, protective over the younger members of his social circle and displays many instances of good intentions.
When the character of Lara is introduced, we begin to see cracks in Richard's initially stellar character. When it becomes apparent that Conor is still very much in the picture for being Lara's friend, an underlying current of jealousy is evident in Richard's demeanour. Where overt hostility could be employed from the offset, the played down insincerity with which Richard treats Conor is all the more unsettling. The tension is palpable, especially for the passive-aggressiveness from Richard's side compared to the continually good-natured Conor.
What Richard Did examines the idea of a person's true nature given the right circumstances. When guilty, Richard is more cold and calculated, his main drive being for self-preservation. Yet despite this, he still expresses remorse. At the heart of his character, Richard does seem a 'good' person - so should he be condemned for this one anomalous yet reprehensible act? Here the lines of morality are blurred and this is where What Richard Did sparks an interesting debate.
Richard could be easily portrayed as unlikeable and arrogant for his status and privilege. The question that does bear considering is whether Richard's upbringing has inevitably given him a sense of entitlement that stretches into his personal relationships. There is an element of hubris to the character, evident in the way Richard cannot fathom why Conor doesn't concede to his failing to win Lara by stepping aside and breaking off contact. Without this, how can Richard display himself as the 'better man'? What Richard Did however, doesn't depict any stereotypical, debauched behaviour to hint that Richard's actions are typical or a product of his upbringing. The mistakes and actions dealt with in What Richard Did are universal and transcend environmental and social influences.
My one gripe with What Richard Did is the lack of character development for Conor. The film gave little to no elaboration to his background and much is left to speculation. Conor is depicted as more obviously vulnerable than Richard, slighter in build and more gentle in his mannerisms. The film only hints at personal issues, yet all we are left with is the impression that Conor is as much the 'good guy' as Richard apparently is. Although Conor is a likeable character treated with sympathy, it's difficult to say whether there would be much satisfaction from seeing Richard brought to justice (i.e. prison).
What Richard Did is an exploration of morality and guilt. An observation into the subsequent fallout of one boy's terrible act, when there is little redemption or justice.