Friday, September 14, 2012

The Hollow Crown - Four Shakespeare Plays

And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d;
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
-King Richard, Richard II, William Shakespeare

Last year I heard news that the BBC was producing four of William Shakespeare's historical plays studded with an all-star cast of some of our favorite period drama actors and actresses. 
This summer the BBC aired all four plays in chronological historical order under the title The Hollow Crown. The four plays are: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V
Not sure when or if these plays will air in the USA but I have found them on YouTube and been able to watch all four in their entirety. This is my long review of all four films. 

Costumes & Scenery: All four films have amazing costumes in rich tones and perfectly in keeping with the time period. The scenery in each of these four films is absolutely stunning! One great thing about filming these four at the same time is that they were able to use the same locations for each which includes using the same castle and throne room for the three British kings. Outdoor scenes show amazing scenery!  

Plot: Vain and foolish young Richard initiates his downfall by banishing Henry Bolingbroke and the Earl of Mowbray as a resolution to their feud and then confiscating the lands of his uncle, Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt, on John's death, to pay for a war in Ireland which he loses. This angers many courtiers including the Duke of York who welcome Bolingbroke back to England where he executes Richard's flatterers. The king himself is soon taken prisoner and murdered in his cell. Bolingbroke, now proclaiming himself Henry IV, vows a pilgrimage to atone for his part in the murder.

Standout Performances:
Ben Whishaw as Richard II - I'd greatly enjoyed Ben as John Keats in Bright Star and this role was another stellar performance. Although Shakespeare's play contains several breaks from history it seems that Ben's age and portrayal of a mostly nice king is more accurate to history. I found the character although a tad crazed by power fairly easy to sympathize with through his struggles.
Rory Kinnear as Henry Bolingbroke (Duke of Hereford and later Henry IV) - Having seen Rory as Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park 2007 and as Lord Septimus Ludlow in Return to Cranford I was used to seeing him in more comical roles but this role is more similar to Septimus Crisparkle in The Mystery of Edwin Drood 2012. Henry is far from comical, I was immediately won over by the nobleness, gallantry, and bravery and found myself rooting for his character to succeed and continue to act wisely. An amazing performance, I only wish he could have been in the next play!
David Suchet as Duke of York - How do I love Mr. Suchet let me count the ways! Amazingly talented actor and voice artist whose roles as Hercule Poirot in the Poirot TV films, Baron von Stockman in Victoria & Albert, Augustus Melmotte in The Way We Live Now and Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations 2011 are beyond brilliant - probably my favoritest actor ever! His character was rather wishy-washy first on one side and then on the other but strong and brave throughout. The beard and the voice were also amazing!
Other Recognizable Actors: David Morrisey (Our Mutual Friend, Sense & Sensibility 2008); Lindsay Duncan (Mansfield Park 1999, Oliver Twist 1999, Lady Catherine in Lost in Austen); David Bradley (Martin Chuzzlewit, Our Mutual Friend, The Way We Live Now, Nicholas Nickleby 2002); Patrick Stewart (A Christmas Carol 1999, Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek); James Purefoy (Mansfield Park 1999, The Mayor of Casterbridge); Tom Goodman-Hill (Miss Austen Regrets); Samuel Roukin (Harris Bigg-Wither in Miss Austen Regrets, Bight Star); Clémence Poésy (War & Peace 2007, Harry Potter films, Birdsong - don't recommend any of these).

Questionable Content: The original script has no questionable content and this film version has no sexual content but there are a couple scenes that might be called slightly gory. A court painter paints a portrait of St. Lambert using as his model a servant who has fake arrows in his bare chest. Two men are beheaded and their fake heads are shown to drop into the moat. Later Richard is shown in prison with only cloth tied around his waist (he sits for most of his soliloquy) and then is shot by three arrows in a slightly gory end. The last scene also features fake severed heads and a body in a casket.


Plot: Henry IV finds himself facing uprisings from the Welsh chieftain Owen Glendower and impetuous young Harry Hotspur, son of the Duke of Northumberland, angry with the king for not paying Glendower ransom for his brother-in-law Mortimer. Another trial for Henry is the fact that his son Prince Hal keeps company with the old reprobate drunkard Sir John Falstaff. Though the prince is his friend he is not above playing cruel jests on Falstaff, robbing him in disguise and returning his money after Falstaff has given an exaggerated account of his bravery in the hold-up. However Hal joins his father at the wintry battle of Shrewsbury to put down Hotspur's revolt,where Hal kills Hotspur in single combat - Falstaff later claiming credit for the deed. Hotspur is routed but Henry and Hal still have to face the uprisings of Glendower and Nortumberland now joined by the archbishop of York.

Standout Performances:
Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal (later Henry V) - I'm becoming a real fangirl of his even though I've only seen him in Miss Austen Regrets, Return to Cranford and in the superhero movie Thor. Prince Hal shames his father by hanging out with thieves and drunkards, playing cruel pranks on his friends and openly mocking his father's disapproval in public. The early scenes are fun to watch but when his country needs him we find that his heart is noble and true.
Alun Armstrong as Henry Percy - His appearance is one shortish scene but seeing him appear on screen alongside his son (who plays his son) made me smile from ear to ear! Their accents and voices are so alike and their dual distinguished noses almost seemed like they'd knock together sometimes when they were standing close in the scene!  haha
Joe Armstrong as Harry Hotspur - Alun Armstrong's son who resembles him greatly, I've enjoyed seeing Joe in the BBC Robin Hood TV series as Allan A Dale as well as a couple of British TV mysteries. Hotspur's character is very hotheaded and determined but he's also a good leader. His soldiers, wife and family love him so it's a shame that he's on the wrong side of the king. The last battle between Prince Hal and Hotspur was quite moving and it's sad there can be only one survivor 
Harry Lloyd as Edmund Mortimer - Harry's roles as Will Scarlet in BBC Robin Hood TV series and Harry Pocket in Great Expectations 2011 have made me a fan and I always enjoy seeing him pop up no matter how short his scenes. His scenes here were again short but his character is very charming and his love for his Welsh wife who speaks no English is so sweet! I absolutely loved hearing the Welsh spoken and sung in those scenes!
Other Recognizable Actors: Jeremy Irons as Henry IV; Michelle Dockery as Hotspur's wife (Return to Cranford, Downton Abbey); Simon Russell Beale (Charles Musgrove in Persuasion 1995, An Ideal Husband, The Young Visiters); Julie Walters (Mrs. Austen in Becoming Jane, Ruby in the Smoke); Maxine Peake (Miss Wade in Little Dorrit, The Way We Live Now); David Dawson (Bazzard in The Mystery of Edwin Drood 2012); Tom Georgeson (Clamb in Bleak House, Under The Greenwood Tree); Robert Pugh (Walter Arless in Lark Rise to Cranford, Bleak House).

Questionable Content: Some sexual innuendo and slightly gory battle scenes. In the first few scenes Prince Hal visits a public boarding house where he wakes up his friend Falstaff who is in bed with his wife whose bare leg is exposed and then he slaps her behind. Soon after Falstaff is seen/heard urinating with his clothed back to Hal while they speak their lines. Later Prince Hal drinks beer by having it poured on his face. We first meet Hotspur's wife Kate when she is in bed clutching blankets to her bare chest, later her bare back is seen as she puts on a robe. Hotspur and his wife are quite amorous kissing and hugging in several scenes. When the King's men seek Hal at the pub Doll Tearsheet sits on his lap and they kiss trying to detract suspicion of stealing from Falstaff who hides. During Falstaff's speech on wine Doll Tearsheet gets annoyed and goes up stairs deliberately flashing her backside as she goes. Scenes of war where men are knocked off their horses and hit with swords and the sound effects of piercing flesh is heard. Prince Hal gets stabbed with a spear and one man gets beaten up by several enemy soldiers. Prince Hal fights with Hotspur and one of them dies. The battle scenes feature some fake blood on faces but mostly a lot of mud. 


Plot: As Northumberland swears revenge for his son's death and gathers his allies to fight the ailing king the Lord Chief Justice, having rebuked Falstaff for being a bad influence on Hal, charges him to recruit an army on Henry's behalf. After brawling with the truculent Pistol Falstaff prepares to leave his lover Doll Tearsheet, criticizing Hal to her unaware that the prince is eaves-dropping. Falstaff assembles a motley crew from Justice Shallow but Henry's cousin Westmoreland arrests the rebel leaders after duping them into a truce. Hal, assuming his father is dead, dons the crown and is berated by the dying king but they reconcile as Henry's last gesture is to crown his son. Hal accedes to the throne as Henry V but, now aware he must put frivolity aside, he banishes Falstaff as his first act as ruler.

Standout Performances:
Alun Armstrong as Henry Percy - His anguish when he discovers his son is dead is so heartrendingly real! Again just a couple short scenes but he's so good!
Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal (later Henry V)  - He's not in the first half very much but his portrayal when he thinks his father is dying is so compelling it made me want to cry too! And he's turned into such a true-hearted and devoted son.
Jeremy Irons as Henry IV - He has several soliloquies and his interactions with his sons are quite charming and compelling. His death is a very hard scene.
Iain Glen as Earl of Warwick - Having only seen him in such villainous roles as Mr. Preston in Wives and Daughters and Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey I was very pleased to find his character here quite wise, gentle and caring.
David Bamber as Robert Shallow - Even though he usually plays quite slimy characters such as Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice 1995, Mr. Lush in Daniel Deronda and Fruing Warne in Miss Potter I always look forward to the comical brilliance of his acting and this role is not disappointing! He and Falstaff are quite a comical pair!
Other Recognizable Actors: Geoffrey Palmer (He Knew He Was Right, The Young Visiters); ;Pip Torrens (Miss Austen Regrets, Lorna Doone 2000); Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford, Downton Abbey); Simon Russell Beale (Charles Musgrove in Persuasion 1995, An Ideal Husband, The Young Visiters); Julie Walters (Mrs. Austen in Becoming Jane, Ruby in the Smoke); Maxine Peake (Miss Wade in Little Dorrit, The Way We Live Now); David Dawson (Bazzard in The Mystery of Edwin Drood 2012); Tom Georgeson (Clamb in Bleak House, Under The Greenwood Tree); Robert Pugh (Walter Arless in Lark Rise to Cranford, Bleak House); Dominic Rowan (Mr. Elton in Emma 1997, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall); Tim McMullan as Silence (Mr. Palmer in Sense & Sensibility 2008).

Questionable Content: Some sexual innuendo and fighting scenes. The first time we see Prince Hal in this part he is relaxing in a sauna with his friend Poins, both men are bare chested and wrapped in towels - nearby other bare chested men are in bathtubs or on tables getting massages. Doll Tearsheet bends over a bucket as if she has just been sick. Drunken Pistol is quite rude to Mistress Quickly and grabs Doll Tearsheet but she takes out a dagger and the others in the room calm him down. When Prince Hal and Poins listen to Falstaff talks about them Doll sits on his lap and later she drags him to the bed and kisses him before they start talking again. In battle scenes men are struck down while trying to run away.


Plot:  Hal is now a responsible monarch as Henry V, his rejection of Falstaff hastening the latter's death. Told by courtiers that, through Edward III, he has a claim to the French throne he makes overtures to the Dauphin but is sent a humiliating present of tennis balls. He prepares an expeditionary force to cross the Channel and take the throne,capturing the town of Harfleur during a surprise nocturnal raid following an inspirational speech. Though merciful to its inhabitants Henry allows soldier Bardolph to be hung for looting. After another truce is turned down by the Fench Henry prepares for the pitched battle of Agincourt,wandering the camp in disguise on its eve to gauge opinion of him. The battle is won with minimal English losses and the French king,whose daughter Henry marries,declares him to be his successor. However an end title shows that Henry dies of dysentary at the age of thirty-five and we are told that his son Henry VI loses possession of France.

Standout Performances:
Tom Hiddleston as Henry V - For any fan of Hiddles this is a must see film! His wooing of Katharine is too charming and heart-melting for words! It's wonderful to see Hal be the noble king he needs to be, a great leader of men. His undercover interview with the soldiers and prayer soliloquy is so moving it brought tears to my eyes. And the "Upon St. Crispian's Day" speech is so heartening it made me want to join their fight too!
Anton Lesser as Duke of Exeter - His role such as Mr. Murdle in Little Dorrit, Counselor Doone in Lorna Doone 2000 and Harold Warne in Miss Potter have put his unique voice in my mind and made me always excited to see his next appearance. Henry V's uncle Exeter is a wise counselor and helps to mend the ties between England and France.
Mélanie Thierry as Princess Katharine of France - I've never seen Mélanie in anything before, probably because she has mostly been in French films but I quite enjoyed her role as the royal princess. I love the one scene where her maid Alice (said aloud it sounds like Elise) helps her learn English words for hand, arm, foot - this scene is mostly in French but it is still very funny! She is so sweet and cute when King Henry woos her and so truly sad at his death.
Other Recognizable Actors:  Julie Walters (Mrs. Austen in Becoming Jane, Ruby in the Smoke); Geraldine Chaplin (Jane Eyre 1996, daughter of Charlie Chaplin); Tom Georgeson (Clamb in Bleak House, Under The Greenwood Tree); John Dagleish makes a short appearance (Alf Arless in Lark Rise to Candleford); Richard Griffiths (Mr. Bayham Badger in Bleak House, Great Uncle Matthew in Ballet Shoes).

Questionable Content: No innuendo but some some slightly gory battle scenes. At Mistress Quickly and Pistol's wedding a couple come out into the street and start kissing but the camera soon pans away. In battle scenes hot oil is poured on soldiers trying to climb the castle wall. King Henry warns the French townsmen that if they do not surrender he can not answer for his soldier's behavior toward the French maidens if they have to take the town by force. Bardolph deserts the army during the battle and is later shown hung from a tree because of his crimes. In the battle many are killed, one man seems to have his throat cut, another is shot in the back with an arrow. Fake blood and lots of mud are caked on the winner's faces and bodies are shown on the battle field.


My Recommendations: These four plays will be a delight for Shakespeare lovers and fans of the actors. My favorite out of all four films is Henry V and that's the one I can recommend wholeheartedly. Richard II is probably my second favorite of the four and I can also highly recommend it. Henry IV Part 1 & Part 2 are amazingly acted, have many interesting characters and add greatly to the complete story of this royal family but has a few too many questionable scenes that are not appropriate for younger viewers - I myself probably won't watch them again.

Stay tuned, I'll be posting The Hollow Crown trailer and some of my favorite clips in a separate post.
Edit to add: I've posted The Hollow Crown Trailer & Clips post.

Are you familiar with these Shakespeare plays?

Have you seen these films or are you interested in seeing them?

If you've seen them what did you think? Any favorite characters or scenes?


Miss Dashwood said...

*cue fangirly squeal*



I'm studying Henry IV and Henry V in my Shakespeare class later in the fall, and I definitely intend to watch the film of the latter. Not just because of Hiddles. Well, mostly because of Hiddles. But also because it will be Educational. And... um... Beneficial to my Study of the Play. Yes. *nods emphatically*

Also Hiddles.

My goodness, I'm being a nut today. Anyways, simply lovely review as always! Now I'm going to have such fun looking out for all those familiar period drama faces--yay! Now I'm off to see the trailers...

Jemimah C. said...

Reasons why I want to watch The Hollow Crown:

1) It is Shakespeare's plays.
2) It will definitely be historical and educational.
3) And it has Hiddles!!!!! Actually, I first wanted to see The Hollow Crown when I heard Tom Hiddleston was in it. But keep that a secret. Shhh!

Thank you for this review, Miss Laurie! I can't wait for the plays to come out.

birdienl said...

Oh, what a nice review! You always review so extensive and organized, I love that!

I've only watched Richard II and Henry IV part 1 so far, because I got sidetracked by holiday, Olympics, Paralympics and the return of 'my' yearly series after that. But I do intend to finish the series, because I loved it so far! Mainly Henry IV though. I could appreciate Richard II because of it's great acting and cinematography, but I didn't find the story very interesting in itself. Also, I had to get used to the Shakespearian language very much, but I think I could follow it much better as I started Henry IV.

I'm a great big Hiddles fan now! I did like him before, but I saw people fangirling over him all around the internet and didn't really get it. Then I saw his gorgeous smile and great acting in Henry IV and now I'm totally a fangirl as well!

Mary said...

Thanks for your review, I stumbled across your blog looking for a review of the content of the show before I bought it (I am so sick of being put through watching sexual content detracting from the actual story and I wanted to be sure that they were going to throw a heap of it into the film). All I was finding was critiques of the performance etc but you presented an excellent rundown which answered what I was wanting to know.

Awdur said...

I second Mary's comment above. It's rare to find a review with the questionable content higlighted rather than the acting ability. I thought the show looked interesting but didn't want to watch it without hearing any other Christian's thoughts about it first. So thanks!
P.S. I hear they're making a Henry VI and a Richard III soon also...

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