A strong element of verfremdungseffekt in this production is the use of doubling, particularly in relation to actors David Burke and Trevor Peacock. Burke plays Henry's most loyal servant, Gloucester, but after Gloucester's death, he plays Jack Cade's right-hand man, Dick the Butcher. Peacock plays Cade himself, having previously appeared in The First Part of Henry the Sixt as Lord Talbot, representative of the English chivalry so loved by Henry. Both actors play complete inversions of their previous characters, re-creating both an authentically Elizabethan theatrical practice and providing a Brechtian political commentary. See more »
The War Of The Roses gets going in Henry VI Part 2. But before that we are treated to a treasure trove of intrigue that would make the Tudors and The Borgias blush.
At the end of Henry VI Part One Peter Benson as Henry and Julia Foster as Margaret Of Anjou are wed. They are brought together by the Duke Of Suffolk played by Paul Chapman who has a very good reason. There's a good chance that he and Queen Margaret were kanoodling behind the Duke's back. It was rumored about later on that the son Margaret had was Suffolk's and later his parentage was questioned by the Yorkists.
But Suffolk is only one of the nobles who are intriguing against stout old Duke Humphrey uncle to the King and formerly his regent. Seems that Humphrey kicked out his first wife, paid off the church to annul his marriage and illegitimatize his children. He took what we now call a trophy wife who liked to dabble in the black arts and she gets set up good and proper and arrested by those out to blacken Humphrey's reputation. David Burke is the old Duke and Anne Carroll is the trophy duchess Eleanor.
While all this is going on the Duke of York who long ago felt he ought to be king as his lineage is better and the present king is an idiot. He's watching all this and when on an expedition to Ireland he turns the troops over to his personal use and loyalty and lands claiming the crown. Helping him out and Shakespeare plants the distinct hint that Bernard Hill as York may have fomented some domestic rebellion. In 1450 The Jack Cade rebellion started with Cade presented as a rather thuggish sort claiming both royal lineage and a plan for social reform that Karl Marx would have found too radical. Trevor Peacock as Cade who sees popular opinion sway with the breeze is who you will most remember from this production.
About 20 years of history is compacted into 3 and a half hours. But the characters do hold your interest. We also see Queen Margaret put the backbone into the Lancaster cause as Henry would rather be either in church praying or in the library studying.
Back when this was first on television, at least on American television the historical plays were presented in chronological order. So audiences saw how the House Of Lancaster under Henry IV usurped the throne from Richard II and then saw the great warrior King Henry V defeat the French at Agincourt and almost take over France. Then in these first two parts of Henry VI we see how he's just not in the same mold as his ancestors.
The War Of The Roses truly deserves a mini-series, I hope the BBC did one or will do one that we across the pond can see. In the meantime this is a fine production of Henry VI Part 2.
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