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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
The decision to start the film as a stage production was made to help audiences attune to the Shakespearean dialog. 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 »
This is a brilliantly conceived movie-within-a-play-within-a-movie that showcases the genius of Laurence Olivier. Today's audiences are exposed mainly to Olivier the movie actor. But if you want to see a purer form of acting, see Olivier the stage actor. This is possible by watching his Shakespeare plays on film. And these films are by Olivier the "auteur," long before the term was coined. Olivier's is the legacy to which Branaugh and others, who essay Shakespeare on film, must live up to.
And lest you're expecting a camera pointed at a stage, don't worry. Olivier, who produced and directed most of his Shakespeare films, has actually used the film medium to enlarge his plays' visual scope, while maintaining the intimacy that is the essence of live theatre. Also, Olivier is mindful of how daunting the language of Shakespeare is for modern audiences and has modified much of the original script to be more comprehensible, while preserving the feel of Elizabethan English.
Olivier's "Henry V" was to England what Eisentein's "Ivan the Terrible" was to Russia a familiar history rendered as a national epic, for morale purposes, while audiences were fighting off the Germans during World War II. There are other parallels. For example, both use static, formalized composition, in Henry V's case meant to resemble the images in medieval illuminated manuscripts and books of Hours. (In Ivan's case, according to Pauline Kael, like Japanese Kabuki.) Thus, a sound stage "exterior" backdrop becomes a tableau that serves to enhance, with its flat perspective and subjective scale, the view we have of that fabulous Age of Chivalry for which the play's Battle of Agincourt was the closing act.
I've always scoffed at the extravagant accolades which show business gives its own. But after seeing this film, or his equally brilliant "Hamlet," I can understand why Laurence Olivier was so good, that a knighthood wasn't enough, and so he was raised to the peerage.
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