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Another triumph from BBC and the Bard!
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!