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Henry IV Part I (1979)

The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry Surnamed Hotspur (original title)
Henry Bolingbroke has now been crowned King of England, but faces a rebellion headed by the embittered Earl of Northumberland and his son (nicknamed 'Hotspur'). Henry's son Hal, the Prince ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rob Edwards ...
Prince John of Lancaster
Sir Walter Blunt
David Buck ...
Earl of Westmoreland
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Henry Percy, Hotspur
Bruce Purchase ...
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Robert Morris ...
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March
John Cairney ...
Archibald, Earl of Douglas
Scroop, Archbishop of York
Norman Rutherford ...
Sir Michael
Owen Glendower
Terence Wilton ...
Sir Richard Vernon
Sir John Falstaff


Henry Bolingbroke has now been crowned King of England, but faces a rebellion headed by the embittered Earl of Northumberland and his son (nicknamed 'Hotspur'). Henry's son Hal, the Prince of Wales, has thrown over life at court in favour of heavy drinking and petty theft in the company of a debauched elderly knight, Sir John Falstaff. Hal must extricate himself from some legal problems, regain his father's good opinions and help suppress the uprising. Written by Peter Brynmor Roberts

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

9 December 1979 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Henry IV Part I  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The week prior to the screening of this episode in both the UK and the US, Richard II (1978) was repeated as a lead-in to the trilogy. The episode also began with Richard's death scene from the previous play. See more »


Henry butters his hands while talking to Hal. In the next cut he is wearing gloves. We then see him continuing to butter his hands and only the does he put on the gloves. See more »


Version of Die lustigen Weiber (1936) See more »

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User Reviews

One of Shakespeare's Best Fusions of Drama and Humour in Excellent BBC Adpation
14 August 2016 | by See all my reviews

When William Shakespeare's history play, "The History of Henrie IV" (later renamed "The History of Henry IV" Part 1 to distinguish it from its sequel) entered onto the literary stage towards the end of the 16th century, both figuratively and metaphorically, one of the most famous and popular of Shakespeare's characters made his debut: Sir John "Jack" Falstaff. As far as we know, Falstaff was an immediate sensation, attested by the numerous quarto editions printed prior to the so-called Shakespeare First Folio of his collected works which appeared in 1623. Sir John Falstaff, possibly loosely based on Sir John Oldcastle, a knight and friend of Henry V until he rebelled against the king, is an old knight whose "vassals" are a bunch of drunken lowlifes who congregate with him at his "court", a tavern far removed from real court life among the nobility. Although, one frequenter of the tavern and friend of Falstaff is Prince Hal, son of King Henry IV.

Three different groups of characters form the play "Henry IV Part 1". There is the king and his immediate group of advisers, a rogue group who have designs to overthrow the king, and Falstaff and his group of "courtiers" at his tavern. Prince Hal moves within the circles of two of the three groups, until, by play's end, all three groups converge in the climactic scene. While the play is named "King Henry IV Part 1", much of the stage-time is devoted to the relationship between Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff. We never know why Prince Hal congregates with these drunkards, but we learn at play's beginning, he's been doing this for a long time.

The play begins circa 1400. It's been approximately one year since Henry of Bolinbroke, now King Henry IV (Jon Finch), deposed his inept and unresolved cousin, King Richard II in one of the most famous coups in English history. However, even after a year, there is still uncertainty in the court regarding King Henry, mainly among the nobles and barons that he has no legitimate claim to the throne. And there had been an outbreak near the Scottish and Wales border at the play's beginning, involving King Richard's chosen heir, Mortimer.

Edmund Mortimer, brother of Henry Percy Hotspur, is being held ransom by a Welsh traitor, Owen Glendower. Hotspur insists Mortimer fought valiantly against the rebels, but the king, based on his own intelligence, doesn't believe Mortimer to be as loyal and brave as Hotspur propagates and refuses to pay the ransom for Mortimer's release. The Percy's also hold in their charge prisoners from the rebellion, and the king wants them turned over to him, but they refuse to comply because of Edmund Mortimer. This compels Hotspur and other members of the Percy family, notably his uncle Thomas Percy, to raise an army and rebel against the king. The Percy's had backed Henry during the coup allowing him to become king.

On another front is Prince Hal (David Gwillim) who has been commiserating with Sir John Falstaff (Anthony Quayle) and his congregation of drunkards at a tavern, presumably in the seedier side of London. Most of the cronies are far older than Prince Hal, save one, Poins, who appears not only to be the same age as Hal but probably more intelligent than the others. Poins convinces Hal to play a trick on Falstaff and his drunkards. Through conniving, they convince Falstaff that he and some of the other bar-flies should rob money from some wealthy traveling tradesmen/travelers. Unbeknownst to them, Hal and Poins in turn plan to rob the money from Falstaff and friends, knowing that when they return to the tavern, Falstaff will boast that they were set upon by 20 to 30 vagabonds. Their predictions prove right, but Falstaff exceeds expectations, claiming he was set upon by 100 vagabonds who he fought off valiantly!

Eventually, a messenger is sent to the tavern summoning Hal back to the court at the king's behest. In a brilliant scene, Falstaff and Hal re-enact Hal's return to the king, with Falstaff playing the king and Hal himself, then reversing the roles. However, when Hal does confront his father back at the castle, neither of the play-acting scenes mirrors the confrontation. The king, in perhaps the most famous scolding in Shakespeare, reprimands his son for commiserating with the barflies at the tavern, reminding him he is to be king one day, and his behaviors shame him and his noble-royal family. He reminds Hal that they have serious matters to attend to, notably to confront Hotspur and the rebellion. Even though Hotspur's behavior has turned treasonous, the king admires Hotspur's military resolve, not convinced Prince Hal has the same metal.

This is a wonderful production of perhaps William Shakespeare's best fusion of drama and comedy in a play. Jon Finch makes a compelling King Henry IV, his resonant voice echoes the words of Shakespeare of the late 16th century portraying a medieval king of the early 15th century. David Gwillim makes a good Prince Hal, who must juggle his desire to hang out with Falstaff and friends and yet do his duty as prince to the king. However, Anthony Quayle nearly steals the show as Sir John Falstaff. Quayle makes the lines of Falstaff his own, the old knight constantly telling stories of passed exploits in which the details are just a little bit bloated. In an interesting turn, when Prince Hal rhetorically puts Falstaff in a corner after the old knight claimed he was set upon by 100 vagabonds, and Hal admits it was only he and Poins, Falstaff in true Shakespeare fashion comes up with a quick-witted response!

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