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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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Let's get one thing straight: It was Olivier who finally cracked the concrete heads of film producers open and proved that it was possible to put the bard of bards on screen without even an American audience falling asleep after 10 minutes. Sure, after all this time his Henry looks ancient, pretentious and artificial, but so will Blade Runner after 50 years, and still both mark a watershed after which none could be done like anything before. Odd comparisons? Maybe. But fitting.
Branagh's Henry finally set a tone worth to succeed the initial awesome blast unleashed by the most powerful actor for generations, and I'm sure Branagh would be the last to deny Olivier's version the place it deserves in British movie history. Times were ripe for another tone - but times before had needed Olivier as much as the following ages will need Branagh.
I'm an obsessive fan of both versions - both for entirely different reasons
and both merging perfectly what I love most about Shakespeare's eternal
Branagh's film is timeless - of this time - without ever being trendy. Olivier's is timeless - as well as of its time - as long as we keep an understanding of its time.
Olivier praised the eternal flame, the eternal smell, of Shakesperean theater, as always reaching far beyond the confinds of its subject - beyond the confinds of the wooden circle of 'The Globe'.
Branagh went right for the jugular, without ever loosing grip on what makes this play a play beyond its subject, and THE play about that subject.
Has anyone considered the vital difference between Branagh's and Olivier's versions? I doubt it. Where Olivier conjured up the intoxicating smell of fresh 15th century glue from the sets rising into the audience's noses, come here straight from the bear fights, whore houses, sermons of zealots and whatever had to flee London's stern moral walls of those times, Branagh cut right to the bone of any hardened 'modern' movie goer.
Behold: Derek Jacoby's prologue is a piece of speech which will forever haunt, enchant and cover me in goosebumps - firing me up to see what comes as well as see what Olivier as well as Branagh had done with the only play ever to merge humanity's lust as well as dread for the subject of war.
Of course, Olivier's version couldn't even dream of matching the intimate intensity of Branagh's. But how could it?
Ok, I won't further dwell on it, but for the last time, consider the father to fully understand the son.
Now, having shed the overpowering shadows of the past, Derek Jacoby steps into the dark of the expecting stage - striking a match...,
"Oh, for the muse of fire..." ... and off we are, lured into the torrent of the bard's unique and eternal magic.
I consider Henry V the best of Branagh's Shakespeare adaptations, even though I wouldn't want to be with any of the others on pain of death. This one's flawless, perfectly cast, perfectly executed and perfectly acted by Branagh himself.
From Burbage to Garrick to Keane to Inving to Olivier to Branagh... it is a glorious lineage to follow in love and admiration for the bard of Bard's ambassadors.
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