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William A. Wellman
In the inspired Olivier concept, Shakespeare's play begins as a performance in the Globe Theatre, shifting in broad cinematic terms to an epic narrative of Henry V, who had developed from a dissolute youth to a purposeful monarch. Proving his ability as a soldier and skillful leader, he unites the dissident factions in the English army and goes on to crush the French, against enormous odds, at Agincourt. Arranging a treaty with the French court, he woos Princess Katharine to whom he is formally betrothed as part of the peace agreement. Written by
As a tribute to his abilities as a director, and uncertain over his own unproved directing abilities, Laurence Olivier originally invited William Wyler, who had directed Olivier in "Wuthering Heights", to direct "Henry V". It was Wyler whom Olivier always credited with teaching him how to give a more subtle performance in films and with giving him more respect for the art of acting in film. Wyler, however, declined, saying, "If it's Shakespeare, it must be you [who directs the film]". See more »
O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention; a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene. Then should the war-like Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, would famine, word, and fire crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that hath dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object: can this cockpit hold the vasty ...
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The main title appears as a playbill floating over the Globe Theatre. Also, there are no opening credits except for the name of the production company and the film's title, which is commonplace today, but was very rare in 1944. See more »
Laurence Olivier's production of Shakespeare's Henry V adds some creative and colorful touches to Olivier's usual fine performance in the lead role. Like the play itself, it's not as deep as the best of Olivier's Shakespeare films, but it works quite well and is an entertaining movie.
In the early scenes, the movie combines the play itself with a very detailed look at how the play would have been staged in Shakespeare's own day. It's very interesting, and is nicely done. It takes advantage of the slower parts in the early scenes to draw attention to the stage, the players, and the crowd, giving you a very good feel for what the theater was like then. Olivier also uses this device to liven up considerably the long historical discourse of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the play's second scene.
After the early scenes, when the real action begins, the movie wisely pulls away from the theater setting and concentrates on the story itself. Olivier is always good in this kind of role, and the photography and settings do a good job of setting off the action. It is noticeable, though, that Olivier chose to omit several scenes or portions of scenes that have some of the commands showing Henry's harsher characteristics, so that the movie concentrates much more on the king's heroic side. What's left still works fine, but it does lose a little depth without this balance. The rest of the cast is certainly adequate, though most of them are overshadowed by Henry. A couple of the exceptions are Robert Newton, very well cast as Pistol, and Esmond Knight, who works well as Fluellen.
Some minor aspects may keep it from being one of the best Shakespeare adaptations, but it's creative, distinctive, and good entertainment. You can rarely go wrong with anything that combines Olivier and Shakespeare.
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