1403: Henry IV finds himself facing uprisings from the Welsh chieftain Owen Glendower and impetuous young Harry "Hotspur" Percy, son of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, angry with the ...
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1403: Henry IV finds himself facing uprisings from the Welsh chieftain Owen Glendower and impetuous young Harry "Hotspur" Percy, son of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, angry with the king for not paying Glendower ransom for his brother-in-law Mortimer. Another trial for Henry is the fact that his son, Prince Hal, keeps company with the older, reprobate drunkard Sir John Falstaff. Though the prince is his friend he is not above playing cruel jests on Falstaff, robbing him in disguise and returning his money after Falstaff has given an exaggerated account of his bravery in the hold-up. However, Hal joins his father at the wintry battle of Shrewsbury to put down Hotspur's revolt, where Hal kills Hotspur in single combat - Falstaff later claiming credit for the deed. Hotspur is routed but Henry and Hal still have to face the uprisings of Glendower and Nortumberland, now joined by the archbishop of York. Written by
Absolutely Outstanding - an embarrassment of riches
As it should be. Made by the BBC as a showcase for British Drama.
If this series of made for TV plays is the only 'legacy' of the London Olympics, I will neither be surprised nor unhappy.
Each has, so far, raised the bar in its own way with stunning filming and unforgettable performances. Here, in Henry IV Parts i and ii, the landscape is normally dominated by Falstaff and the Eastcheap tavern crew. Falstaff is Shakespeare's Everyman and his audience's favourite creation and Simon Russell Beale was born to play him. His Falstaff has a knowing awareness of the dimensions of his vice and the ever-present sinister proximity of Nemesis but he doesn't fall short of the full measure of Rabelasian exuberance and good humour and has the common sense to keep his self pity private. Inspired casting amongst the rest of the crew sees faultless performances from Julie Walters, David Dawson and Tom Georgeson and gives us another glimpse at the astonishing range and talent of Maxine Peake. Paul Ritter has a mountain to climb, after Robert Stephens' Pistol in Branagh's Henry V and may not manage it but the remainder of Team Falstaff rise to the occasion brilliantly.
However, Richard Eyre (and Rupert Goolden with Richard II) have followed Branagh's example with extravagantly detailed and wonderful realised minor characters, metronomically striking the right note again and again.
Irons has never turned in a better performance as guilt, tragedy and sickness wear out the life in his Bolingbroke, Tom Hiddleston also turns in a career-best as the archetypal unmanageable teenager and Hotspur and his wonderful Katharine are perfect in their representation of the northern version of the Plantagenet Generation Gap. Criticism of their lack of 'grandeur' seems to miss the point, I think. Hotspur and Katharine are more than one kind of rebel and their impatience with Welsh hospitality and the world in general is beautifully played here.
All in all, you can't do better and the DVD's, when they come out, should be in every collection. I know I'll be watching parts of this series over and over again.
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