Go to Top

Review (****): Chimes at Midnight, (Henry IV Part 1 and 2, etc)

Chimes at Midnight is available from :

Amazon.com for streaming ($3.99); as Blu-ray ($25.00); as  a DVD ($8:62)

Amazon.co.uk as Blu-ray (£16:30); as DVD (£9.99)

Prices are indicative – check the actual price at the Vendors’ links above.

.

It would also make a great Christmas present, though you might like to compare it with other present options in our Shakespeare @ Christmas post.

.

Our Bottom Line:

A wonderful production by Orson Welles of a story derived from Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2.  It tells of the competition between Henry IV and Falstaff for the soul of Prince Hal. It would have 5-stars except for the less than perfect (but adequate) sound track.

.

 

Our Review (****)

Chimes at Midnight tells the story of how Henry IV and Falstaff compete for the soul of Prince Hal (later Henry Vth). Iit covers Henry IV part 1 and 2, plus a little from Henry Vth (the death of Falstaff, and an early scene of the new kiing). It was Welles’ favourite of his films.

.

A host of stars from the 60’s play most of the main characters: Orson Welles (Falstaff); John Gielgud (Henry IV); Narrator (Ralph Richardson); Hostess (Margaret Rutherford); Doll Teadsheet (Jeanne Moreau). Prince Hal is played by Keith Baxter. Norman Rodwell plays Hotspur.

.

Welles has taken Shakespearean text from Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and 2; Henry Vth, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and woven it into a recognizable re-telling of the story of Henry IV, Prince Hal, and Falstaff in the context of the rebellion of the Percys. However, the script does not follow the structure of Shakespeare’s plays. Instead, Welles has created a film script which creates a great film, and honours Shakespeare’s story, with some interesting directorial adjustments:

.

Falstaff is not presented as a venial low-life comic, but as a witty and philosophical proponent of Merry England, rejecting the responsibilities of power, and the Machiavellian approach of Henry IV, later adopted by Hal when he becomes Henry Vth.

.

The amalgamation of the two parts of Henry IV; and the death of Falstaff from Henry Vthadds a rich motif of death to the play: Hotspur dies; Henry IVth dies (inter-cut with Shallow’s meandering thoughts on life and death); and Falstaff dies. And of course, soldiers die in the Battle of Shrewsbury. This adds greatly to the melancholy of the traditional Henry IV Part 2, as well as strengthening the musings on generational change, by Henry IV.

.

One of the highlights of the film is the clever uses of crowd scenes in the film:

.

The courtiers are often a menacing presence in the background of the scenes at court: Hotspur speaks of his disgust at the behaviour of Henry IV in front of soldiers and courtiers at court, discomforting his father and uncle; Henry IV has to request the courtiers to leave before he can tear a strip off his son; Falstaff struggles to break through the celebrating crowds at the coronation of Henry Vth,  before the new king rejects him:

.

I know thee not, old man: Fall to thy Prayers:
How ill white hairs become a Fool, and Jester?

.

In The Boar’s Head, there are a couple of set-pieces where the whores at the tavern, with the customers, come together and add colour to Hal and Falstaff’ ‘practise an answer’ for Hal’s interview with Henry IVth (the picture introducing this post is a composite picture of Falstaff and Hal’s version, and the reality of Prince Hal’s interview with his faather). And when Prince Hal leaves for the war, Faslstaff and the prince have to weave themselves through a dance in the tavern.

.

Most impressively of all, there is a 5-minute sequence which covers the Battle of Shrewsbury. Soldiers kill each other with all the ugliness of medieval war: Swords and arrows; nailed clubs and spears deal crude deaths to participants on both sides.  The sequence starts with cavalry charges and ends with soldiers writhing on the muddy ground. It’s a masterpiece of the cruelty of war.  As Wikipedia states:

.

“The Battle of Shrewsbury sequence has been particularly admired, and inspired later movies, including Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. Film critics have compared it to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin and the Battle on the Ice sequence in Alexander Nevsky, both directed by Sergei Eisenstein.[85] Kenneth Branagh‘s Henry V used Welles’s Battle of Shrewsbury sequence as an inspiration for the Battle of Agincourt,[64] and depicted Prince Hal’s rejection of Falstaff in a way that was more influenced by Chimes at Midnight than from more traditional interpretations of the scene.”

.

This is a wonderful film, despite the inadequacies of the sound track. I was so impressed with it that I adapted my own script so that I could put on a stage version called Gentlemen of the Shade  at the Edinburgh Festival in 2004. A free version of that script is available at The script of Gentlemen of the Shade.  The film is now available in a 50th anniversary restored version. If you haven’t seen it, get hold of a copy and watch it.

 

.

Let’s Play!

.

‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com
playersshakespearemffev5@gmail.com

If you are using, or thinking of using, Players-Shakespeare.com’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays for production rehearsals or play-reading, why don’t you become a member of our Support for Playreading & ProductionsFB group?

If you want to know the best Shakespeare shows to watch at home check out our Great Shows to watch at home page

If you ‘like’ our Facebook page, you’ll get updates on Facebook on what’s happening on Players-Shakespeare.com

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

banner