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King Henry V of England is insulted by the King of France. As a result, he leads his army into battle against France. Along the way, the young king must struggle with the sinking morale of his troops and his own inner doubts. The war culminates at the bloody Battle of Agincourt. Written by
Liza Esser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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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, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire crouch for employment.
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"Henry V" marks Kenneth Branagh's greatest achievement to date. Branagh not only directs this rich and visually stunning film, he stars as the title character. The movie opens with Derek Jacobi (Branagh's Shakespearean mentor) in modern garb passionately delivering the prologue. Then we are taken into the dark, dank rooms of Henry's castle. The king makes his dramatic entrance, complete with a Darth Vader style cape.
The entire film is filled with grandeur and pomp, with any faults in the story line being attributable more to Shakespeare himself than Branagh. Henry V as I remember it from my college English class is a decidingly pro-British play (and film). There is little question that France should be conquered, and Henry speaks of his war against France as if it were France that attacked England. Indeed, Henry's famous "St. Chrispin's day speech" is so rousing, that it has been quoted often and inspired the name of the "Band of Brothers" miniseries about World War II. This is no surprise, since Shakespeare's prose is famously beautiful.
There is definitely a difference in the way that both sides of the conflict are presented. The French, at least in Branagh's movie are presented as arrogant (and somewhat effeminate), while on the side of the English, even children are filled with manly courage. Henry is presented as noble, fair, and merciful. True he threatens the mayor of one French town, telling him that if he does not surrender the town, the English will do terrible things to its residents, but does not carry out his threat. He also hangs the one English soldier who steals from a French church, refusing to show favoritism for him just because he was his friend. Apparently mercy towards your own countrymen was not a virtue that Henry saw particularly important.
The films greatest attribute is its soundtrack, particularly the use of music in the scene following the battle of Agincourt in which the warring parties collect their dead for burial.
All in all, a fascinating look inside the mind of a king.
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