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William K. Howard
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 availability of extras for the battle scenes was one of the main reasons why Laurence Olivier decided to film the Agincourt sequence in Ireland. Due to the war, there was a huge shortage of able bodied men in the UK. Irish civil servants were offered time off to work on the movie. 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 »
For Harry and St. George at Agincourt on St. Crispin's Day
Previous to this film, Laurence Olivier had only one experience with Shakespeare on the screen, 1936's As You Like It. It was not a work that Olivier was terribly proud of. He did determine right there that if he were to do Shakespeare again, he would have complete creative control. Olivier did just that, on this film and every other filmed adaption of the Bard that he was involved in.
Olivier's desire happily coincided with Winston Churchill's desire to make some good British propaganda for the war effort. Churchill was fond of what he called Shakespeare's "war plays" and Henry V definitely qualifies in that category. He gave Olivier whatever logistical help he needed and remember a war was on. Even to the extent of arranging with Eamon DeValera permission for Olivier to bring the entire Henry V crew to the Irish Republic so that the outdoor scenes could be filmed away from Nazi bombardment.
Olivier chooses an interesting method of introducing the play. It opens with a scene of 16th century London at the Globe Theatre at the opening night. The play begins with Leslie Banks as the Chorus reading the introduction and the first scenes are filmed as simply a photographed stage play. After that first scene at Henry V at his court, spitting defiance at the French herald and having his retainers go through an elaborate justification for his claim to the French throne. We then as the Chorus bids us have our imagination take flight until the end of the play when it returns to the stage this time with Henry V marrying the French princess and sealing his claim to their throne.
I believe what Olivier wanted to do was show the play through two sets of eyes. He wants the audience to imagine they are in Elizabethan England watching the events of a century before and know that things looked pretty grim then for England and they pulled out of it.
The battle scenes at Harfleur and at Agincourt are nicely staged and photographed. Olivier's Henry V is a strong and virile leader, convinced of the rightness of his cause and he has the confidence in himself as military leader to see it through. Kind of like the Prime Minister who was in office then.
Certainly in the Middle Ages the high point of English arms was at Agincourt. It was truly one lopsided victory, English long-bowmen against French knights. The French cavalry was truly decimated on that day and a lot of their nobility was killed. And the French were the betting favorites.
Seen today though it's a bit different. The Hundred Years War, and this was the second phase of it, was quite frankly a naked war of aggression by the English to obtain the French throne. In 1944 audiences thrilled to remember this impressive feet of arms by the English, but the reasons were kind of glossed over.
Still Henry V is an impressive motion picture and I'm sure it did what it set out to do, be a morale booster for the English public. Among other performers I liked in this were Robert Newton as the ancient Pistol and Leslie Banks as the chorus and Valentine Dyall as the Duke of Burgundy.
But I would wager that Charles DeGaulle was not invited to the premier showing of Henry V.
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