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Review (***) The Hollow Crown, Henry V, Universal 2012

By Alan Brown

November 16, 2017

 

The Hollow Crown (Series 1) is available:

Streaming: The Hollow Crown’, Series 1, a 4 disc set of Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & 2, and Henry V is available for streaming on Amazon Video / Prime at $2.99 per episode.

UK: ‘The Hollow Crown’, Series 1 (DVD), a 4 disc set of Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & 2, and Henry V is available through Amazon.co.uk at £15.95

USA: ‘The Hollow Crown’, Series 1 (DVD), a 4 disc set of Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & 2, and Henry V is available through Amazon.com at $16.35

 

Our Bottom Line:

I like the honesty of the single  role – and Hiddlestone does very well, with a sovereign’s gaze offset by a deliberate and attractive humility – but the personalised interpretation does cause problems with the play as a whole.

What does work, and undeniably, is the music composed by Adrian Johnston. Muted trumpet, thrumming bass strings and muffled beats do their steady best to keep the screenplay going, never better than when underscoring two lines of Henry’s prayer before Agincourt, ‘O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts, Possess them not with fear’ (1:20:51).

 

Our Review (***)

So now it’s onto the final curtain of the ‘Henriad’, when the ‘warlike Harry’ (Fifth of that name) takes it all: crown, glory, lands, and a French princess – and then dies. In life Henry reigned for just nine years, 1413 – 1422, and died in the towering Chateau de Vincennes at the age of 35.

 

‘Small time, but in that small, most greatly lived

This star of England.’

 

Of all Shakespeare’s Histories Henry V is the most theatrical, the most star-struck, and the most celebrated. It can be loosed across a stage, as straight as an arrow, and in the hands of a great actor-director, it can become stirring and memorable cinema. Think lofty Olivier (1944) and ‘bawcock’ Branagh (1989). For the conclusion of The Hollow Crown, and no doubt seeking continuity, Thea Sharrock (Director) and Ben Power (Adaptor) look less at the swelling scene and more at the man.

 

They have Tom Hiddleston, fresh from The Avengers, where his Loki might well have liked Prince Hal as boon companion. But now it’s King Henry, party time is over, Falstaff is dying, then dead, and England is coming on to reclaim much of France. A mission statement is available here and Hiddleston grabs it, much as he does his crown on his way to the audience chamber to knock back the Dauphin’s messenger. This is a king in a hurry, a ‘wrangler’, and vengeful if riled. Yes, there’s a pensive soul in there, caught in the half-light, half-sitting on his throne, but the camera goes left, over his shoulder, to focus on a wall hanging of St George killing the dragon. I like the honesty of the single  role – and Hiddlestone does very well, with a sovereign’s gaze offset by a deliberate and attractive humility – but the personalised interpretation does cause problems with the play as a whole.

 

The film opens at Henry’s funeral, which is a bit of a downer. It takes more than an invigorating horse ride to make up for the relegation of the ‘Muse of Fire’. The treason and arrest of Grey, Scroop, and Cambridge doesn’t happen and with it goes the fun of some highly pleasing dramatic irony. Worse, Pistol’s fortuitous and very comic capture of the French knight, le Fer, is cut and the cowardly swagger is replaced by trembling trauma. The Duke of York is knifed in the back by the Constable of France. These changes serve, I suppose, to heighten the action but they work themselves out like a bid for realism when that is simply not within budget. The assault upon Harfleur shuffles along and looks pretty clumsy, despite the burning oil, and the muddy field of Agincourt needed many more archers, many more arrows and many more bodies. Picky, yes, but if you are going to invest in impressive and frightening shots of close-order fighting, with the king unhorsed and in peril, then you have to get the whole picture right. Better, possibly, to have stayed within the rows of archers and on the faces of the advancing foot soldiers and then, at the charge, let imagination take over; and so, with the Chorus, to ‘piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.’

 

What does work, and undeniably, is the music composed by Adrian Johnston. Muted trumpet, thrumming bass strings and muffled beats do their steady best to keep the screenplay going, never better than when underscoring two lines of Henry’s prayer before Agincourt, ‘O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts, Possess them not with fear’ (1:20:51).

 

Hiddlestone proposes, in the ‘Bonus’ item, that Henry V is ‘warrior poetry’ and that in its entirety is a ‘masculine play’. Well, so be it if you accept that it is all about a man who has the power to unleash ‘famine, sword, and fire’, but it is also just as much about kingship, the crown and the (prosaic) moral obligations that lie about it, which is why it makes good sense to listen carefully to Henry, in disguise, and Williams as they debate what it is to die ‘well’ in battle, and for whom, which is carefully and respectfully retained here (at 1:13:20).

 

Look away from Henry, which is not really the director’s intention, and it is easy to notice the firm supporting roles of nobles Exeter (Anton Lesser), Westmoreland (James Laurenson), and York (Paterson Joseph). Paul Ritter as Pistol stands disconsolate for all that are ‘base, common, and popular’ whilst Mélanie Thierry as the Princess Katherine and Jérémie Covillaut as Montjoy demonstrate all the graciousness and chivalry of fair France.

 

A word, finally, about the Chorus. We hear the voice but do not see the figure until the very end when, in a clever twist (2:12:29), John Hurt steps up from Boy to man and delivers the final two lines of the Epilogue – and, faced with one of England’s finest actors, you will choke up.

 

Alan Brown
Reviews Editor,
Players-Shakespeare.com

 

Next ‘up’, and completely different, David Mitchell as Will Shakespeare in BBC TV’s Upstart Crow, 2016

 

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Just want to watch a great Shakespeare production at home?| Check out our Great Shows to watch at home page.

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