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Ian McKellen gives a tour-de-force performance as Shakespeare's tragic titular monarch in this special television adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of one the playwright's most enduring and haunting works.
Although this BBC televised play would as a matter of course lack the production values that Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh brought to their films of Henry V, this adaption is second to none in the quality of the performance. In fact David Gwillim who had played Prince Hal in both parts of Henry IV grew into the role in a way that Olivier and Branagh never did.
It is interesting to speculate how history might have changed had Henry V gotten a few more years. While British historians proclaim one of the greatest of monarchs, the French see him as slightly below Hitler as one of the greatest enemies of their country. As well they should, the English got battlefield glory, the French buried battlefield dead as the 100 Years War was fought in their country. He died a couple of years older than that other conqueror Alexander the Great and had both of them lived who knows what they might have achieved.
Henry V is fulfilling the promise of greatness that he showed so little of as Prince Hal. The play concerns itself with his taking full command of the throne, executing some conspirators who were planning to assassinate him, and then achieving one of the great battlefield triumphs of the Middle Ages, the English victory at Agincourt over a French army that outnumbered them. Gwillim plays Henry with authority and decisiveness that rank with what Olivier, Branagh and others have done with the part.
The BBC series of Shakespeare plays were productions of the highest quality. I only wish that they were all available in this country as this one was. I saw it when it first aired on American public television back in 1979 and it is still as good as I remembered it from then.
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