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When I was at school, Shakespeare was as dry as the pages it was written on. To watch it, performed by actors who really know and understand Shakespeare, and can convey that in their work, is to enter a world of majesty, of subtle innuendo, of humour and of total understanding of the work of the Shakespeare who used his gift to allow 'the common man' to discuss and understand the goings-on and political machinations of his age. There are no 'spoilers' when it comes to Shakespeare - the work is out there in a myriad of forms and interpretations, waiting to be read. This production is one of the best available. Watch it, then read the plays. Savour the words. Go back and watch the scene performed. Truly appreciate the nuance and the masterful language of the master at work. I cannot recommend this production highly enough. From the haughty, almost effete King Richard (Ben Wishaw) through Jeremy Iron's haunted Henry IV to the masterpiece of development that is Tom Hiddleston's Prince Hal, this production brings the humanity and the grandeur of the role of King and all that conveys. Get it. Watch it. Love it.
What makes this selection of History plays so sublime? The glorious Ben
Wishaw as Richard II. The equally glorious Tom Hiddlestone as Henry V.
The - again - equally glorious Jeremy Irons as Henry IV. The fantastic
supporting cast - especially Simon Russell Beale and Julie Walters and
Also, the spellbinding music, the authentic locations, the detailed costumes, the sensitive cinematography, the wonderful direction and, of course, the eternally magnificent words.
I cannot find enough superlatives to praise these sublime productions. Shakespeare's language, his vision and his political and social world, brought to life by different directors with differing approaches, but with a singular aim - to entertain an audience with the most powerful weapons available - language. For me, they succeeded. To paraphrase the words of another denizen of Shakespeare's limitless imagination, Prospero, these productions: "...are such stuff as dreams are made on;"
Thank you, whoever had the common sense to commission and nurture these productions; the best thing I have seen on my television this year. And my 19 year old daughter and 16 year old son agree - I am no wrinkled greybeard, bemoaning the loss of the golden age, but I hope to see more of these productions; stunning gems of real culture and tradition, nestled amidst the dross of reality TV programming and the glorification of idiocy that is typified by the celebrity culture in which we live.
My copy of the DVD is on order, and I cannot wait to watch these magnificent productions again. And again and again and again....
What distinguishes these hollow crown productions from their predecessors is the crystal clarity of the text as delivered by the cast well done everyone! It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that the text is to be delivered as verse. Twaddle! Ideas like that permeate school English classrooms where failed actors teach gullible pupils that iambic pentameters rule. No, they do not! Furthermore, good presentation of Shakespeare is so often ruined by over enthusiasm on the part of the performers. Without wishing to name names, I saw one version of "Much Ado About Nothing" where the comedy in the text was entirely lost because the director and his cast insisted on inventing and adding their own comedy instead. It is a brave man who would want to out-do Shakespeare! The ability of these Hollow Crown productions to tell the story which leads ultimately to the "Wars of the Roses" was admirable. There was so much to say even before the "Wars" had begun. I should probably watch them all over again .! And I think I will!
"The Hollow Crown" is BBC's magnificent filming of the Shakespeare's
second Henriad (Richard II with Henry IV's rise to power, Henry IV,
parts I and II, and Henry V). I believe the first three of these have
only been filmed in the old 1970s BBC series of Shakespeare's complete
works, and although the old series was at its best with its version of
Henry IV, "The Hollow Crown" is far above it. Simon Russell Beale is
the ideal choice for Falstaff, even with Orson Welles hard on his heels
in the Falstaff compilation "Chimes at Midnight", Tom Hiddleston is a
great Prince Hal, and Jeremy Irons, never known to err, shines as the
guilt-ridden King Henry IV.
There are some interesting comments on the bonus material for Henry IV, part II that explains why the plays come across so successfully in 2012. Thea Sharrock, director of Henry V, muses that people may be shocked at hearing the actors speak in real surroundings (on location), but of course, that's old hat. Even Olivier anticipated that in 1944 with his Henry V. Moviegoers are not that easily shocked anymore. And although Hiddelston is also mistaken in his claim that it has never been done before, he is right in stating that "Shakespeare is at its best when you speak it like you're making it up." Julie Walters adds, "You've got to speak the lines, not in a stilted isn't-the-verse-beautiful kind of way; it's got to be the way you talk"
This natural way of speaking the lines, more foreign to British Shakespeare productions than to American ones, accounts for the greatness of "The Hollow Crown".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to watch all three parts of this
trilogy, mainly because one was postponed due to a Wimbledon match
being played in its stead! Anyway, this is a marvellous production,
brilliantly acted, particularly by Tom Hiddleston as King Henry.
There's tragedy and humour, both wonderfully portrayed by a string of
brilliant actors who know what they are doing.
Budgetary constraints prevented the showing of the epic battle scenes (for example at Agincourt) that have become standard in Hollywood, usually with a heavy use of CGI. This did not detract from the production at all, because it is about real acting, including a beautiful use of language. The costumes and locations also worked well.
Well done the BBC may you produce many more such productions, and well done the cast. This production stands out among all the horrible 'reality TV' dross that is spewed out on our screens.
I cannot wait to buy The Hollow Crown once it is out on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
May contain spoilers. This undertaking of Shakespeare's the Henriad is
so well done and so well acted. I have studied these plays and seen
many productions in film and on stage and the Hollow Crown among the
best that I have seen. Richard is played so well and has a wonderful
fragility to his characterization and that is key portraying Richard.
Jeremy Irons portrayal of Henry IV is a visceral depiction of a man
being destroyed by the kingship that he so craved. Tom Hiddleston's
Prince Hal/ Henry V is one of the best if not the best that I have ever
seen. I have seen Laurence Oliver, Alan Howard, Kenneth Branagh and
Iain Glen and Michael Sheen portray Henry and Hiddleston bring such
humanity to the role. He is not a rousing cipher as Henry is often
played but a real man trying to find his way through the cut and thrust
of the story being told while trying to shield his humanity and not be
destroyed by the crown as his father was. He sheds new light on Hal and
Henry with his interpretation of the role. Simon Russell Beale's
Falstaff is a joy to behold. For once he is not just a lovable rogue
there is both human fragility and human venality is his
characterization. He is flawed and that is plain to see but at his core
there is genuine love for Hal even as he also tries to steals Hal's
victory over Hotspur and misrepresent that he himself killed Hotspur
though it is patently untrue. And yet you feel for this Falstaff flawed
though he is. These are just a few thoughts on the highlights of the
Hollow Crown and I cannot recommend this series of productions more
Even though this interpretation of Henry V leaves out some portions of the play that are my favorite and of which I generally think crucial in defining Henry's character it does so many things well that I can easily forgive these few omissions.
I saw the Michael Bogdanov directed versions of these plays at the Old Vic some time ago and loved them! But they didn't translate that experience onto the videos sold. This was a fine effort to film the unfilmable with Richard ii and Henry IV Part one coming out of the mix very well. The latter's opening pub scenes are incomprehensible to me and the Bogdanov version solved this by having Pistol burst in wearing a Buffalo Bill costume and firing off his pistols. By the time the audience had recovered from this, the rather difficult scene was over. Get past the opening hurdle and this play becomes one of Shakespeare's wittiest and wisest. This was an excellent production.I was less enamoured of Part two but mainly because it has weaker material in it (the army recruitment scene was tedious.) However this was forgotten when in the second half of the play, Jeremy Irons gave a towering performance as Bolingbroke. Tom Hiddleston was great as Hal/Henry V and you could chart his progress from tearaway youth to hero soldier with fascinated admiration. Surely he is wasted in Marvel films, good as he is in them. Having seen Jeremy's performance as Richard ii in Stratford ,it was brilliant to see him play the man who caused the downfall of that king (Richard II). And all from the comfort of my armchair! Great casting of Ben Wishaw and Rory Kinnear as modern incarnations of Richard/ Bolingbroke in this feud. The BBC have acquitted themselves well.I only wish there was a series 2 featuring the Henry 6th trilogy and Richard iii that completes this cycle of plays .Steve Qualtrough
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At school we were force fed Macbeth (*yawn*). I loathed it. At the time
I thought that Shakespeare (*yawn*) was a load of boring old rubbish,
not a patch on the Terry Pratchett books that I enjoyed reading at
home. It genuinely puzzled me that my teacher (I am thinking of you,
Mrs Canning!) seemed to get so much out of studying the text with us.
A couple of decades later I stumbled across The Hollow Crown on the TV, and there was nothing else on so I thought that I would give it a chance. What a revelation! It was so pleasant to watch. The quality of acting, the excellent settings, the obvious command and understanding of the text demonstrated by the cast. Boring old Shakespeare (*yawn*) now excitingly brought to life on the screen in front of me. Fantastic.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of the Hollow Crown plays, from Richard II to Henry V. I am now looking forward to reading Henry VI. If, like me, you have never been a fan of Shakespeare (*yawn*), but you are curious to see what all of the fuss is about, then give the Hollow Crown series a look as you may just be surprised.
There's no question of the production values here, and Hiddleston is
excellent. But my lord! What a dower, dismal concept! This play is one
of the most playful Shakespeare ever wrote. The playfulness lies not
only in the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff, but also
Hotspur and his wife, and even some of his political speeches. (His
fury in the initial confrontation with Henry IV is so exaggerated that
it can be played comically).
I have never read the dialog between Hotspur and Kate as anything other than play - and indeed, one of Hotspur's better traits is this very modern relationship he maintains with his wife. But the director has unaccountably chosen to treat this interchange as a marital quarrel, as if Kate would actually threaten to break her husband's little finger. Come on.
The staging of Falstaff and Prince Hal is even worse. Shakespeare wrote some awfully good jokes for Falstaff, but you'd never know it in this version. I would not normally presume on Big Bill's intentions, but I am sure he meant Falstaff to be likable, charming, for the audience to be on his side - and Hotspur, too, for that matter. In fact, the audience is supposed to enjoy most of these characters, and be saddened by the necessity Hal feels to reject Falstaff and all the world, and the inevitability of Hotspur's defeat.
The director has the drama right, but he has lost the comedy - and that is the shame. I think it put the cycle out of balance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been fascinated with Shakespeare since I first read Midsummer
Night's Dream nearly fifty years ago. The direction in this trilogy
varies wildly. Richard II seems to have taken a cue from Marlowe's
Edward II, with Whitshaw playing it as a barely closeted Michael
Jackson figure (including a pet monkey). The supporting players carry
the day up to the final installment, where for whatever reasons, the
groundling characters were deeply excised.
The huge disappointment here, for me as a lover of the Bard, is Henry V. Perhaps Branaugh's bravura and his supporting cast make it akin to comparing apples and oranges, but this version of Henry is more like a 21st century motivational speaker than a king walking the razor's edge on the road to Agincourt. The conspiracy is deleted, the wonderful groundling characters that appear at Harfleur are nearly all gone. Fluellen is parsed down to almost nothing. All the exposition of the French chevaliers idly bragging about their armor, horses and the ease with which they will destroy Henry and his army--gone.
It reflects poorly on the lead and director, because in Henry IV of the series, Hiddleston does well enough as Hal. Henry IV, part one comes off as the strongest of the four, perhaps because the director knows his subject matter.
What also sticks out is the amount of screen time a relatively minor character is given in Henry V. Watch it and see if you can pick him out.
On the plus side, seeing Alun Armstrong and his son playing Northrumberland and Hotspur was a highlight of the series. Also, watch for James Purefoy, Geraldine Chaplin and several actors who don't usually appear in mainstream cinema. Skip Henry V of the series and watch Branagh's or Olivier's Henry. If you love Shakespeare, watching this version is a bit disappointing.
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