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on August 6, 2013
Richard II - 5 STARS.
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!
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Shakespeare's historical plays can be a tough sell -- after all, they are political dramas that most modern people don't know much about.

But "The Hollow Crown" is up to that challenge, bringing to life Shakespeare's famous historical tetralogy ("Richard II," both parts of "Henry IV" and "Henry V") with an all-star cast and beautiful direction. The backgrounds are lush and the direction is powerful, but the real credit here goes to Tom Hiddleston, Patrick Stewart, Ben Whishaw and Jeremy Irons.

In "Richard II," a feud between Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) and Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) leads to a duel... which is interrupted by King Richard II (Whishaw). Instead, the king banishes both men, and snatches the inheritance of Bolingbroke when his father (Patrick Stewart) finally dies. The nobles grow angry, and Bolingbroke begins to build a rebellion against his cousin -- with tragic results.

The story then skips about twenty years into the future for "Henry IV." King Henry IV (Irons) -- formerly Bolingbroke -- is troubled by brewing wars with Wales and Scotland, as well as the sudden rebellion of the fiery "Hotspur" Percy.

He's also not too happy with his son Hal (Hiddleston), who spends his time frolicking with thieves and pranksters, especially the corpulent Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). When the Percys revolt against the king, Hal is given the opportunity to prove himself a worthy future king, and sets out to battle, with Falstaff beside him.

Finally, "Henry V" follows the new young king as he disarms assassination plots and prepares for the Battle of Agincourt. As he prepares to conquer France, Henry V grapples with his new responsibilities and seeks to find out what his men think of his rule. And he seeks to solidify his eventual victory by wooing a French princess.

"The Hollow Crown" has the benefit of three directors -- Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock -- and each one directs it in a way that befits the story. Goold's direction is elegant, with lots of soft white light and ornate details; Eyre's is harder and colder, with lots of period grime and slop; and Sharrock's is full of shadows, dirt and blood, but ends with elegance and light once again.

And the entire production has a feeling of respect -- you get the feeling that the people making it know and love Shakespeare's work, and wanted to present it in the best way possible. The sets are impeccable -- from shimmering forests to a grubby little tavern -- and they take the time to explore the comic (Hal doing an impression of his dad) as well as the tragic and dramatic.

As for the cast... they are all brilliant. There are seasoned veterans (Stewart, Irons, John Hurt, David Suchet) acting alongside relative newcomers. Whishaw plays Richard as a floating, effete king who likes cosplaying as Jesus and hanging out with his boyfriends, uncaring about how his kingdom is crumbling around him.

And Hiddleston gives a tour-de-force performance. His Hal is a mischievous, clever young prince who knows he will have to grow up soon, and Hiddleston plays him with equal skill as a prankster and a noble young king. He's easily holding his own among the veterans, while showing charisma enough to convincingly play a monarch.

Sadly Patrick Stewart and James Purefoy don't stick around long, although both of them do good jobs in the time they are there. Suchet gives a powerful late-in-the-game performance, Irons is excellent as a crotchety king who fears for his country's future, and Beale is quite good as the womanizing, boozing rogue Falstaff, who realizes that Hal will eventually cast him off.

"The Hollow Crown" is a virtually flawless adaptation of Shakespeare's classic Henriad -- and if this can't get you interested in English history, nothing will.
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on July 26, 2015
The Hollow Crown is a great way to watch the Henriad in a manner that has a sense of consistency, produced as it is by the same team. This helps a bit with the fact that stylistically and structurally the plays vary a good bit. "Richard II" is almost all dialogue, light on action or strong passions, and it is all Ben Whishaw's. though the other players give strong performances. Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke/Henry IV does an excellent job of portraying the journey from aggrieved subject to ambivalent but ambitious usurper. I thought the setting for Richard's imprisonment was a little strange, being such a clichéd "dungeon" set, but that's a minor quibble. Overall a good production of one of Shakespeare's more poetic plays.

"Henry IV Parts 1 & 2" are the prime jewels in this crown, and make the entire purchase worthwhile by themselves. Simon Russell Beale deserves every bit of praise he's received for his Falstaff --vain, cunning, obsequious & blustering --- and Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons match him as Prince Hal & King Henry. The scenes with Falstaff & Hal are a wonder to behold, especially the mock trial where Hal defends himself against his father's anger with Falstaff & Hal switching the roles of father & son. (Hiddleston's dead-on impression of Irons had us rolling). I found Armstrong's portrayal of Hotspur a bit too thuggish --- this could be colored by my reading on the historical Harry Percy -- but it works within the context of the play. The progression of the dynamic between Hal & Falstaff is clear & well done in concert with Hal's dawning maturity. Strong performances by all supporting players make these two an enormous pleasure.

"Henry V" was somewhat of a disappointment, both in structure & production. Hiddleston's portrayal of Henry suffers a bit in comparison to Kenneth Branaugh's, more ruthless than regal. I understand removing Scene II, Act II ( the treason of the 3 lords) for streamlining, but reducing Henry's closing speech in that scene to one muttered line on board ship for France robs it of its' power & conviction. The siege of Harfleur lacks dynamic energy, especially the dramatic threat delivered to the city elders. & the first glimpse of the army (?) is disappointing ---- to say they employed a cast of dozens is generous. That lack is painfully obvious through the rest of the production, and becomes almost comical in the scene of the slaughter of the French prisoners. The Crispin's Day speech is underwhelming, as it is mostly given face-to-face among the barons, rather than a rousing pronouncement to the army as a whole. This is a valiant effort with some interesting choices in execution, but as I said, it doesn't come up to Branaugh's in grandeur. This lack is what prevented me from giving the set 5 stars, but the "Henry IV" duo make up for the weakness of "Henry V", & more than justify the purchase.
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on December 28, 2016
"Richard II" was my favorite, but each film was terrific. The acting was superb, and I was fan girling Shakespeare throughout; after 500 years, his language remains above reproach. The producers cut several lines, or each play would have been too long for a BBC film, but they haven't abridged the plays to their detriment.

The leads (Ben Wishaw, Jeremy Irons, and Tom Hiddleston) embraced their roles with aplomb, especially Wishaw (as Richard), who manages to make you feel abject contempt one moment and utter compassion the next.

A couple of the casting choices were a bit odd and even distracting; for example, they cast a black actor in a pivotal role as duke clearly for the sake of political correctness, yet that person historically could never have been black. He played the role exceedingly well, but I couldn't help thinking about how he didn't look the part.

Believe it or not, the biggest flaw is the score. If you're going to invest in some of the world's best actors and use fabulous locations, set a bit aside for the music, which in this case is mediocre; at times it even interfered with my enjoyment of the films by swelling just as an actor delivered a crucial line.
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on March 2, 2017
The acting is spellbinding, the actors voices are beautiful for bringing Shakespeare's words to life. Having read Sharon Kay Penman's books about Matilda (daughter of Henry I - When Christ and His Saints Slept) through Richard I, then re-reading Anya Seton's Katherine (mistress & finally wife of John of Gaunt, the father of Henry IV) seeing this was timely. I preferred it to the second season, The Wars of the Roses, although these plays were also excellent - superb acting & directing.
It is arguably the best Shakespeare I've ever seen in 50 years of watching his plays. Now I'll return to Penman for her Richard III (The Sunne in Splendor).
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on July 21, 2015
I have 30 or so discs of various Shakespeare plays. I consider this set among the very best. Yes, they've taken some liberties with the basic text, but nothing serious. What I appreciate is that they didn't just put a stage play onto film but instead used all the benefits of film (camera work, lighting, visual transitions, appropriate but nonintrusive background music, etc.) to make the play come to life and still remain true Shakespeare. Friends who likewise love Shakespeare have said the same things. One friend commented, if Shakespeare were alive today and had the chance to transfer his plays to film, this is very close to what he would likely produce. The discs also have excellent English subtitles that can be turned on to help viewers catch some of the words and phrases that might not be instantly familiar.
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VINE VOICEon November 19, 2013
If you are a fan of Shakespeare's history plays, as I am, this set is a must-see. The level of the productions are feature-film caliber, with only the limited amount of locations betraying the television budget. I love the Henriad (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Henry V) but it is the 'prequel', Richard II, that truly shines in this collection. Ben Whishaw, as the titular king, is spectacular, and director Rupert Goold's visual approach to the story is revelatory. The set would be worth it for this film alone.

Luckily, you'll also get Jeremy Irons as Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal / Henry V. I was a bit disappointed by Simon Russell Beale's Falstaff. (Perhaps they drowned him in a bit too much makeup.) It's tough territory, given how good Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V (which incorporates several Falstaff scenes), already was. What Branaugh couldn't do that this series does is show the sweeping forces of history. When Shakespeare gives Henry V his "Upon the king" speech on the eve of Agincourt, we know exactly what he means when by "the fault my father made in compassing the crown".

Let us hope that Henry VI ("in infant bands crowned king") and Richard III will be the next historical tetralogy from this team of producers.
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on December 17, 2015
This is a nice way to jump start your William Shakespeare " Historical story's" . I already have " Richard the 3", "Henry the 5th", "Julius Caesar" ( Both Brando & Heston versions) & "Antony & Cleopatra", but had a very hard time finding "Richard the 2" & "Henry the 4th" anywhere & I don't mind doubles in my Shakespeare movie adaptation's! I found all the movie adaptation's in this collection enjoyable but found Tom Hiddleston's wartime speeches quite flat compared to the passion portrayed by Kenneth Branagh's version. Anyone trying to bring Shakespeare to T.V. or The big Screen faces extreme editing issues due to time constraints usually cutting the Bards verse in half & must make up for the loss of words with great musical scores, awesome cinematography & very talented actor's!!! I think for the most part this is a worthy addition to anyone collecting movies adapted from the works of William Shakespeare.
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on September 25, 2015
I just finished watching it, and what can I say? Wow, just wow. Wonderfully acted, beautifullly done, to anyone who loves Shakespeare you will not regret buying this. First let me say, that I haven't seen Patrick Stewart or Jermey Irons in Shakespearean roles till now, and they were both amazing I really love these actors and have enjoyed them here very much. Now for the younger actors, Ben Whishaw who I saw first in The Hour is a bright talent and I really wanted to hug him in this he just made me feel so much sympathy for him. Tom Hiddleston, as Prince Hal later King Henry the 5th was out of this world. He owned this role and made it his own. I think he stepped into big shoes and filled them well. So I highly reccomend this. It's a wonderful display of talent.
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on January 8, 2014
I love seeing Shakespeare transported from stage to film and this thrilling production of Shakespeare's finest historical plays is particularly vibrant. Starring some of Britain's finest actors, both veteran and relatively new, each production takes on new life whether on the battlefield or in the throne room. My least favorite is "Richard II" despite excellent acting by Patrick Stewart and Rory Kinnear. Ben Whishaw's excessively fussy and mannered Richard didn't work for me. In fact, his portrayal of Richard doesn't hold a candle to Tom Hiddleston's performances as Prince Hal/King Henry V. The transformation of self-indulgent party boy Prince Hal into warrior king leader of men King Henry is entirely believable and riveting in Hiddleston's hands. It's no accident that he has received rave reviews for "Coriolanus," currently on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Shakespeare is always relevant and "The Hollow Crown" delivers on that truth.
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