The Hollow Crown: The Complete Series
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From executive producer Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) comes a stunning adaptation of four of Shakespeare’s most celebrated history plays: Richard II, Henry IV (Part 1 and Part 2), and Henry V. Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons (The Borgias), Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) in his award-winning role as Richard II star in this epic tale of three kings, their battle for survival, and the rise and fall of a dynasty.
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Perfect acting, incredible story, gorgeous costumes, beautiful cinematography. By far the best of the four, and mostly because of an electrifying performance by Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Skyfall). I asked myself why I hadn't seen Whishaw more often! His performance as Richard II is towering, electrifying, chameleon-like, moving, disturbing, delicate, multi-faceted, and most of all, brilliant. A phenomenal performance, and worthy of much praise indeed.
The supporting cast more than holds it's own: Patrick Stewart (always great, but sadly he leaves the narrative rather early), Clemence Poésy (a great, underrated French actress), David Suchet (reliable as ever), and Rory Kinnear (Who's Bolingbroke "bursts with valour and courage").
But let us give credit to where credit is due. Shakespeare...was one damn fine writer!
BEST SPEECH (delivered gloriously by Ben Whishaw):
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court...
Henry IV Part 1 - 4 STARS.
Jeremy Irons is one of the finest Shakespearean actors to ever live. His Henry IV is a sharp contrast to Whishaw's Richard. Richard is pious, noble, weak-hearted, and entirely eligible to be king. Henry is strong, prepared, diligent, hard, and a usurper. And there you see the problem. Richard was the rightful king, yet he was not a good ruler. Henry was a traitor, banished by Richard, yet it was he should sit on the throne of England. It was not until Henry's son - Prince Hal, would sit on the throne of England as Henry V, that England would have a ruler that was both ready and legitimate.
And as Prof. Peter Saccio (a renowned Shakespearean scholar) points out, overthrowing a king (as in what Henry IV did to Richard II) proves to others that a king can be overthrown. So it is with great certainty that Irons's Henry proclaims: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
Henry IV, Part 1 has a great cast, led by Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons.
In the supporting cast we see: Tom Hiddleston (Mentored by Kenneth Branagh, Tom is an excellent actor, as adept at playing Loki as playing Prince Hal), Simon Russell Beale (a most excellent Falstaff - perfectly capturing Sir John's mix of charisma and loathsomeness), Julie Walters, and Joe Armstrong (a fine, impulsive Hotspur). On the whole, the cast is as well chosen, experienced, and star-studded as you could expect from a BBC Two Production produced by Sam Mendes (Skyfall).
So far so good, Henry IV, Part 1 has a stellar cast, luscious costumes, a battle scene or two, a heroic speech here and there...What's not to like?
I'll tell you - the lack of Jeremy Irons.
Yes, the Oscar winning actor has a very small screen time - the majority of the play given to raunchy tavern scenes, and political intrigue in Scotland. I saw disappointingly little of Irons in this adaptation, but on the whole, I loved it!
Henry IV Part 2 - 3 STARS.
Ian McEwan (Game of Thrones) co-stars in this one. Sadly, I didn't find this one at all as interesting as the previous wins.
Henry V - 5 STARS.
In my opinion, Henry V is the greatest play in the Henriad, and one of Shakespeare's greatest ever history plays (other greats would include Richard II, III, and Julius Caesar). There is quite simply, something for everybody here. Whether you love action, romance, political intrigue, drama, or historical fiction, you will love Henry V.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about Henry V is that it gives the title actor room to shine. And there have been many great portrayals of the warrior king, over the years. In film, there have been only 3:
1. Laurence Olivier, who starred and directed in a very famous 1944 adaptation of Henry V (The Criterion Collection). This film was released during WWII, and depicts the English as strong, valiant, heroic soldiers, and the French as pompous, foolish, and decadent.
Everything about this film was meant to boost morale during the darkest time during English history.
In short, it was thinly veiled British propaganda. And by Jove did it work. It was a serious morale booster.
2. Kenneth Branagh, who starred and directed in an acclaimed 1989 Henry V. The great Branagh's first film, Henry V co-featured a star-studded, immensely talented supporting cast. This striking, brilliant adaptation stripped away all the glamour and heroic-ness of Olivier's adaptation, and the end result was exciting, brilliantly acted, gritty, imaginative, and action packed.
Still the best.
3. Tom Hiddleston, who stars in a 2012 adaptation directed by Thea Sharrock, released by BBC. Hiddleston was younger than Olivier when he played Henry, but a year older than Branagh. The actor (fresh from playing the foolish, care-free Prince Hal) is surrounded by older players, so the end result is a Henry quite young, fresh from the death of his father, and forced to play a large role in the affairs of state.
But it's nothing less then compelling. I have always wondered how Henry the Fifth made the transition from Hal the playboy, the rascal, to Henry V, the warrior, the man. Tom Hiddleston manages the transition perfectly. His Henry is one charismatic, grave, and cerebral.
An excellent, fresh take on a classic play.
The film itself is well shot, and the action scenes are good. The supporting cast lacks the star factor, but none of the talent, of the previous films - with Julie Walters returning as Mistress Quickly, and John Hurt as Chorus.
However, Henry V suffers from a lack of visual grandeur. In Branagh's film, the King delivers the disturbing Harfleur speech from a rearing stallion, surrounded by fire and the carnage of battle. In The Hollow Crown, Hiddleston delivers the speech with equal gusto, but this time it is on a bridge, on the back of a complacent mount, with the fat mayor of Harfleur standing a few yards from him.
And what of the most famous speech in the play - perhaps of ANY Shakespeare play save Hamlet - the "St. Crispin's Day" Speech? Kenneth Branagh delivers it on the top of supply wagons, surrounded by a hundred soldiers, to a rousing Patrick Doyle score. When the Irish actor says, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," you feel like you are part of that small, noble band, led by that young, heroic king.
Tom Hiddleston speaks the immortal lines to just five men, standing on the ground, to no music at all. As I said before, the way he speaks those lines is worthy of praise, but the direction is not.
I could go on, but there is a huge difference from what you can do on a $9 million dollar budget, then on a $900,000 dollar budget. On the whole, I loved The Hollow Crown: Henry V, and greatly enjoyed watching it!
BEST SPEECH (Part of the St. Crispin's Day speech):
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
The Hollow Crown has been a triumph from the always great BBC. I cannot wait for more!
Long live the Bard!
I admit I rather doubted the BBCs capacity to be faithful to the setting without being obsessively politically correct but was, for the most part pleasantly surprised.
In Richard II Ben Wishaw was excellent in the title role as a king whose sense of his own majesty gave him a sense of something like detachment from the events around him. Whishaw's Richard could be nothing other than a King, and one could almost believe that by taking his crown, Bolingbroke also destroyed Richard the man.
Patrick Stewart as the ailing John of Gaunt was also an excellent casting choice, and for the most part the production was solid, authentic looking and realistic.
My only gripe was that some of the violence did seem a little excessive, and it hardly seemed likely that anyone would deliver the severed heads of traitors to the King personally in a basket, and that King Richard seemed much too camp at times. His possible homosexual tendencies were only rumoured and never proven that I know of, but here they seem to be presented as an obvious and known fact in some places.
In Henry IV Jeremy Irons gave us a more 'grown up', mature, brooding and more troubled Henry beset by rebellion, illness and his own conscience. Shakespeare did a wonderful job of portraying Henry's gradual breakdown as he struggled to retain control of his kingdom and his household and Irons depicts this well.
I loved Joe Armstong as the headstrong and cocky Hotspur (though I never really liked him as Allan a Dale), with friction between him and fellow rebel Owen Glendower very noticeable.
The only real disappointment for me was Falstaff who for the most part simply seemed unfunny, and just sounded like an unhinged old man talking to himself when he delivered the soliloquies that were meant to give insights into his character, and the only other gripe I had was the sexual content.
It was obvious that Doll Tearsheet was a prostitute, and anyone could guess what she and Falstaff got up to in the bedroom so was it really necessary for the programme makers to show them 'at it' anyway? Not really.
Henry V, my favourite Shakespeare play of all was a total let down, which did not nearly reach the standard of its predecessors. It was not the play that was the problem- it has enough political intrigue, romance, heroism, battle scenes, acts of courage and emotional poignancy to make a first rate Drama, and there have been wonderful adaptations of it in the past, most notably Kenneth Branagh's 1989 version. However, the casting, quality of acting and editing of the latest version created a mutilated, disjointed, and rather dry and non-compelling adaptation.
Personally, for me Tom Hiddleston did not 'cut it' as the Shakespeare's warrior King Henry V whose charisma and strength of character alone could inspire his men to victory. Indeed, this Henry seemed positively lightweight.
Many of the other characters seem to have lacked any depth, and simply delivered their lines without sounding as though their heart was really in it. Thus there seemed to be little feeling or emotion in this version as there is in Branagh's. Even the famous Crispin's Day speech (`We Few we happy few') to me did not seem at all moving or inspiring, and the humorous scenes or interludes failed to deliver any comic relief.
The filmmakers cut out a number of scenes and passages, including the Southampton Plot in which three nobles were discovered to have planned to kill King Henry before he left for France. This scene was arguably important in its depiction of Henry's character development as it shows he was capable of making tough and even painful decisions to protect his kingdom- the harsh reality for Medieval kings, as well as showing that there was opposition to him.
Also Henry's two brothers Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and John Duke of Bedford (formerly John of Lancaster in Henry IV) are absent from this version for reasons unknown. Though Bedford's absence can perhaps be historically justified because he was not at Agincourt, his brother Gloucester was. So why not include him?
Yet despite his sibling's absence Henry is still heard to say 'we are in God's hand brother' after treating with the French herald- a line originally delivered in response to Gloucester's voicing his hope that the French would not come upon the English too soon, when his brother is not even there and the line makes no sense.
Instead the Duke of York, a minor character with only a few lines in the original play replaces them in a prominent role, constantly appearing as something like the King's 'right hand man'- and sometimes seemingly being given other characters' lines or roles.
For instance it was the King's Uncle the Duke of Exeter that Pistol asked Llewellyn to intercede with to stop Bardolph being hanged in the original play, yet for some reason in this version York is the one who is responsible for this. It can be assumed that the elevation of York's character reflected the casting of an Ethnic minority actor is his role, and the BBC's desire to ensure he was not therefore overshadowed by White British actors with `bigger' or more important roles.
Finally, events surrounding the killing of the prisoners at Agincourt (which was cut out of Branagh's version) did not seem to be well portrayed- it is shown that Henry feared the French would regroup and make a fresh attack hence his given the order to kill the prisoners, but all we see are three French knights riding by, hardly enough to pose a threat.
Thus the whole scene is implausible especially when Henry refers to the French knights still riding over the field when only he and a few English soldiers are visible.
Only the beginning and final scene of this version really featuring Henry's funeral seemed to be any good, as they helped to 'round off' the story and give the audience a sense of finality- as well as letting them know what happened to Henry. The chorus' closing speech recounting the loss of France and demise of the Lancastrian dynasty gave the ending a poignantly tragic note, but one which sadly could not make up for the deficiencies of the rest of the play. The final installment was, in my opinion was a disappointing and weak conclusion to an otherwise great series.