|Index||4 reviews in total|
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.
Henry IV Part 1 focuses on rebellion and uprising. Welsh chieftain Owen
Glendower and young Harry Hotspur, son of the Duke of Northumberland
are angry with the king and plot to do battle despite the king pursuing
peace with the warring factions.
Henry IV is also envious in the battle hardened Harry Hotspur in comparison with his own son Prince Hal who forever keeps himself in the company of lowlife such as Sir John Falstaff and is pals in various taverns getting involved in all sorts of japes, getting drunk and whoring.
However Hal feels the need to prove to his father that he is ready to do battle and joins his father to stop the revolts and it is Hal who fights and kills Harry Hotspur.
Jeremy Irons has a glorified cameo as the weary Henry IV knowing that he himself usurped the throne from Richard II and now has to fight to keep it. Tom Hiddleston is the clowning prince who realises that as heir to the throne he needs to prove himself to his father and prospective loyal subjects. Simon Russell Beale plays Falstaff as conniving, cunning and boisterous.
Richard Eyre has used locations to bring the play to live and take it away from a studio setting to make it look less stage bound.
However we also see the difficulties of adapting Shakespeare for a new visual audience. These plays were made for a time where people were entertained for four hours or more. Even though this was cut down it felt over long and we are only in Part 1 still. If this was a movie the kernel of the story could be done in a hour. The rest is tomfoolery with Falstaff and his crowd, otherwise known as padding.
HENRY IV PART 1 is the second of the Shakespeare histories released
under the BBC's HOLLOW CROWN banner, following on from the excellent
RICHARD II. This one offers similar quality, in terms of strong
production values and decent performances, except that they're slightly
wasted on what turns out to be one of the Bard's weaker plays.
The problem with HENRY IV PART 1 is that I just didn't care too much about any of the central characters. Jeremy Irons is Henry IV, but he has little screen time and he's given little to do other than look weary and loaded with angst. Tom Hiddleston steals the limelight as the youthful Prince Hal, in a performance brimming with energy and vitality, and there's a wide-ranging cast of familiar faces such as Julie Waters in the comedy role.
Sadly, my feelings about the production didn't change as it went on, and much of the shenanigans left me feeling cold. One such character is Falstaff, who I felt was a rotund drunk and nothing more than that. I know there are extra layers of character and meaning to be found but the character was so repellent that I just didn't care.
The second part of this series of films continues the trend of having
me watch a play I have never seen nor read for myself. I do like
Shakespeare and have been down to Stratford quite a few times to see
plays, but it seems the majority of this series I have not seen (with
the exception of the final one, Henry V, which everyone has seen!).
This story sees Henry IV older on his throne aspiring to great things
overseas but struggling at home with rebellion from the Welsh and a son
who is given to hanging around with drunks and reprobates. A lot of the
film is spent with this son, Hal and his comic sidekick Falstaff.
I know this focus is almost certainly the focus of the original source material but I found it hard to escape the feeling that too much time was spent with these characters and their banter in the pub. In the background we have the King battling those men who helped him in his rise to power and I was much more interested in this, so time spent with Hal seems like time wasted. This relationship does help add some comedy and humanity to the telling though and in a way it did help the film in ways that I found weak in this version of Richard II. It isn't done well enough though, Hal's rise from failing son to heir apparent is not particularly engaging here and it should have been more gripping and telling.
The cast are mostly pretty good although again I think the direction saw some of the colour and passion come out of the material. Irons is a good name to have in place and what limited time he has he does do well with but the focus here is on Hiddleston. Having just seen him be Loki in The Avengers, it did take me a second or two to get on board with his casting; he does do a decent job and he does come over as human and accessible, although as I said, I didn't think he did quite as well to start to rise out of that into his future position. Beale's Falstaff is pretty good though and his energy does enliven a lot of the film. As before the supporting cast are solid with a few familiar faces in there.
Overall though, this was a good film but not one that really gripped me. That may be the play or this version of it, I'm not sure, but I did feel there were weaknesses that were shared with the first film in this BBC series. The language rarely soars and there isn't enough done to give it meaning and to give it impact in the way I expected. The story still is interesting but I couldn't shake off the impression that there was more edge and intrigue to be had that was being lost in the delivery. Good enough to make me look forward to the next film in the series, but also lacking enough to make me want to watch another version to see how it works in someone else's hands.
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