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 »
First, it has taken me almost 30 years to finally get a copy of this play to view again. Previously, it was only available as an entire series (all 37 plays)for libraries or schools ONLY--and since not many libraries could afford the entire series, it was unavailable--even at the university libraries I also checked. Thank goodness for Ambrose, since PBS has been horrendous in not making it available earlier. Finally audiences could see accurate productions with excellent casts. So...know that:
1) These were NOT film productions. They were part of an ambitious project to VIDEOTAPE the ENTIRE canon of plays. Therefore, they were shot on sets--RARELY on location. If you are producing all 37 plays with some of the best talent, you don't spend it on frills. Because these were 'filmed' stage plays, the sets were minimal--but tapestries, arches, crenelations, and some grassy knolls sufficed. The costumes were, with the possible exception of Olivier's film, the most accurate--and obviously derived from the 15th c. Duc de Berry's Hours. Kenneth Branagh's had hardly any costumes, and NO ARMOR! Leather armor on the king?! How ridiculous was that? Branagh's film costumes were historically inaccurate, though the french knights did sport some real armor. And the only location filming was the same muddy field for Harfleur and Agincourt.--See Branagh's autobiography for why: Budget mattered here too, just as it did to the BBC in 1978/79.
2)David Giles, directed "I Claudius" about the same time for the BBC, then did "Julius Caesar", and soon after, this cycle of history plays with Derek Jacobi as Richard II, and an interesting Jon Finch (who did a memorable Macbeth for Roman Polanski)as Henry IV. And unlike later producer/directors for the series, he stayed in the historical period of the action; which makes for a better understanding of that action, than seeing "Anthony and Cleopatra" in 16th century clothes. This production also had a lead actor who looked more like the real Henry V (if the NPG portrait is to be believed) and the attention to detail of Henry's scarred cheek from Shrewsbury.
3)David Gwillim not only had the continuity of playing Prince Hal in the series immediately before doing "Henry V", he had also seen Anthony Quayle's Falstaff as a child when his father, Jack Gwillim, was in the play. So there was a rapport. But doing the plays as a continuous series, and viewing it as such, it is easy to see how the portrayal built on what came before. And how bluff, jolly Hal, becomes serious, wary Henry V; who yet still remains approachable and likable as king.
4)Like Branagh's ten years later, this production tried to show a conflicted king, as well as a calculating one; a stickler for the accuracy of his claim to France (witness the close questioning of the prelates' long-winded reasoning), and yet one who could feel both the traitors', and then Bardolph's deaths, and a guilty conscience the night before Agincourt. Okay, so Branagh's and Olivier's Crispin Day speech is more inspiring--they also were enhanced by music. David Gwillim's first act--the tennis balls,and later traitors scenes have never been bettered. Gwillim didn't just glare at the French Ambassador like Branagh; you actually saw the king's surprise, rueful acknowledgment of his own past actions having caused the false impression, and an attempt to control his temper all within the space of a few seconds before he replies. Branagh's scenes were rather more histrionic. Ditto, the traitors scene. Branagh attacked so you saw the anger, but the tears did not equal the pain of those "...Why so didst thou(s)" that Gwillim and Giles did. And that closeup when Gwillim's Henry is told about Bardolph still resonates without the flashbacks Branagh had to use. No one has bettered Gwillim's "Upon the King...". Through inflection and expression it was so much more honest and real. Olivier's is almost sleepy--and he cuts a lot out. Branagh's, though beautifully lit and enhanced by music, still sounds like he's reciting--until the final desperation seeps in. Later, I think the BBC production tried to capture the historical Henry's rigorous adherence to rules, but also his religiosity--though it was very subtly done. (I could see this king burning Badby, pulling him out half burned to recant, and then putting him back in the flames when he doesn't.) RE: The glove scene: Henry deflects the challenge to Fluellen because he knows if Williams does hit him as king, it is a possible death penalty--as Fluellen himself recommends. So, for Henry it is not a game, it is an attempt to protect Williams--yet still let him know what he could have faced. And in CU we see both the king's consideration of Williams's excuses and consequent concern about the situation before he capitulates and gives Williams the crowns. And finally...
5)In over 40 years of viewing, David Gwillim is THE most honestly direct actor I have ever seen. Maybe the range and subtlety of others' talent is not present, but that's what made him almost perfect as Shakespeare's Henry V who was such a forthright and direct king. Olivier comes across as overtly regal, and Branagh as younger and more approachable. You never forget Olivier is a king, and Branagh is more like a brother. Only David Gwillim caught the middle ground of both the honest directness and resultant surety of purpose in Henry's authority, and the isolation of self-awareness. So for now, and as I did 30 years ago, I thank Mr. Gwillim (and Mr. Giles) for "the little touch of 'Harry(V)' in the night."
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