Henry V (1944) Poster


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The Gold Standard
jacksflicks1 May 2004
This is a brilliantly conceived movie-within-a-play-within-a-movie that showcases the genius of Laurence Olivier. Today's audiences are exposed mainly to Olivier the movie actor. But if you want to see a purer form of acting, see Olivier the stage actor. This is possible by watching his Shakespeare plays on film. And these films are by Olivier the "auteur," long before the term was coined. Olivier's is the legacy to which Branaugh and others, who essay Shakespeare on film, must live up to.

And lest you're expecting a camera pointed at a stage, don't worry. Olivier, who produced and directed most of his Shakespeare films, has actually used the film medium to enlarge his plays' visual scope, while maintaining the intimacy that is the essence of live theatre. Also, Olivier is mindful of how daunting the language of Shakespeare is for modern audiences and has modified much of the original script to be more comprehensible, while preserving the feel of Elizabethan English.

Olivier's "Henry V" was to England what Eisentein's "Ivan the Terrible" was to Russia — a familiar history rendered as a national epic, for morale purposes, while audiences were fighting off the Germans during World War II. There are other parallels. For example, both use static, formalized composition, in Henry V's case meant to resemble the images in medieval illuminated manuscripts and books of Hours. (In Ivan's case, according to Pauline Kael, like Japanese Kabuki.) Thus, a sound stage "exterior" backdrop becomes a tableau that serves to enhance, with its flat perspective and subjective scale, the view we have of that fabulous Age of Chivalry for which the play's Battle of Agincourt was the closing act.

I've always scoffed at the extravagant accolades which show business gives its own. But after seeing this film, or his equally brilliant "Hamlet," I can understand why Laurence Olivier was so good, that a knighthood wasn't enough, and so he was raised to the peerage.
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Creative Adaptation of the Play
Snow Leopard2 April 2002
Laurence Olivier's production of Shakespeare's Henry V adds some creative and colorful touches to Olivier's usual fine performance in the lead role. Like the play itself, it's not as deep as the best of Olivier's Shakespeare films, but it works quite well and is an entertaining movie.

In the early scenes, the movie combines the play itself with a very detailed look at how the play would have been staged in Shakespeare's own day. It's very interesting, and is nicely done. It takes advantage of the slower parts in the early scenes to draw attention to the stage, the players, and the crowd, giving you a very good feel for what the theater was like then. Olivier also uses this device to liven up considerably the long historical discourse of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the play's second scene.

After the early scenes, when the real action begins, the movie wisely pulls away from the theater setting and concentrates on the story itself. Olivier is always good in this kind of role, and the photography and settings do a good job of setting off the action. It is noticeable, though, that Olivier chose to omit several scenes or portions of scenes that have some of the commands showing Henry's harsher characteristics, so that the movie concentrates much more on the king's heroic side. What's left still works fine, but it does lose a little depth without this balance. The rest of the cast is certainly adequate, though most of them are overshadowed by Henry. A couple of the exceptions are Robert Newton, very well cast as Pistol, and Esmond Knight, who works well as Fluellen.

Some minor aspects may keep it from being one of the best Shakespeare adaptations, but it's creative, distinctive, and good entertainment. You can rarely go wrong with anything that combines Olivier and Shakespeare.
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Magnificent adaptation with exceptional direction and acting
ma-cortes14 June 2005
It's a splendid rendering of Shakespeare book about the warrior king Henry V . The movie begins with an ingenious initiation but the camera from a first general shot on the background lead us until a foreground where some actors are playing at the Glove theater . The film is rightly based on historic events . They are the followings : Henry V vanquishes Charles VI in Agincourt (1415) and took over Normandy . Charles VI of France signs Troyes treatise in what Henry V is wedded to Charles's daughter . His descendant Heny VI of England will proclaim himself King of France but Charles VII (anterior Delphin) will be crowned king of France in Reims and the ¨100 years war¨ going on until 1453 (date of downfall Constantinopla).

This is the first of three principal movies directed by Laurence Olivier along with ¨Hamlet¨ and ¨Richard III¨ based on Shakespeare plays . It's an astounding , stirring , stunning and thoughtful film with glimmer , glittering , colorful cinematography and splendid costume . Partly intended as a wartime morale-booster for the British. Certain parts of the play were consequently omitted, such as Henry's hanging of a friend as an example of firm justice . Laurence Olivier won a honorary and special Oscar for his producing , directing and acting in bringing English history part to vivid life of the screen made with pageantry and perfection . The excellent secondary cast is completed with usual players of the English stage theater and films with important careers : Leo Genn (Quo Vadis) , Leslie Banks (Jamaica inn) , Robert Newton (Treasure's island) , Ralph Truman (El Cid) , Felix Aylmer (Ivanhoe) , Ernest Thesiger (Bride of Frankestein), Neal McGinnis (Jason and the Argonauts) , Freda Jackson (Brides of Dracula). The especial departments are outstanding , thus : Robert Furse in wardrobe and costumes , the classic musician William Walton and the photographer of superproductions Robert Krasker . Rating : Good . Well worth seeing.
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Great opening, but a bit too light
ckeller-65 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Laurence Olivier made this movie during World War II. He wanted it to be a propaganda movie, and unfortunately this is still visible. His Henry is a king and war hero shining in perfect light. All the rough edges and darker points of Shakespeare's original play are left out: We don't see how Bardolph is hanged, Henry doesn't kill his French prisoners in retribution for the attack on his camp, and Pistol is actually looking forward to becoming a pimp and cut-purse in England again. All this makes the movie a bit too simple-minded and one-dimensional.

But apart from that, both Olivier's acting and directing are good. Especially the opening is very innovative: It takes place in a theater, the story is presented as a real play. This gives room for comments on Elisabethean theater and interaction with the audience - look for instance how they react whenever Falstaff is mentioned. Unfortunately this angle is lost later on and the movie continues in a more conventional fashion.

All in all a classic certainly worth watching, but it won't hurt to check out Kenneth Branagh's version as well for a more balanced view on the original play.
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RARubin7 April 2005
I saw a modern remake of this film, 1989, recently with Kenneth Branagh. The battle showed sweat and blood, a non-theatrical production in comparison to this 1944, very theatrical, Olivier production. Some reviewers denounce the heavy-handed acting of 1944, but I find it charming.

Olivier has an economical charisma. His acting has few flourishes, but his voice says everything. Olivier in period costume is mesmerizing. As Shakespeare's bad-boy prince turned earnest King, Olivier takes charge and demands the return of English lands from the rather effeminate French nobility. Outnumbered 10 to one, his merry band of Englishmen dispatches the Dolphin at Agincourt. Then he courts the French speaking princess Katherine with broken French and economy.

The recreation of old London and the Globe Theatre was delightful. The audience and players went on in heavy rains without complaint. The mention of Falstaff's name is enough to get applause, though the buffoon has only a short death scene.

I do believe the play has been abridged. Many of the longer speeches seem shortened. Still, this is accessible Shakespeare. How can you go wrong? Never!
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A brilliant, classic film--worth watching again
brig00275 September 2000
What an intelligent film!!! I loved its stage-y quality--The good-humored recreation of a performance in Shakespeare's time with the audience so fully engaged, laughing at jokes we don't understand (e.g., the machinations of churchmen). I loved the details and sense of history--the sets inspired by medieval illuminations and the score by William Walton. The tight script and directing bring out the complexity of the play. Unlike other reviewers, I'd rate it higher than Branagh's more visceral, contemporary version though I can see why some might find this one pallid. It doesn't have a modern feel, and this style of acting Shakespeare feels dated to me--I've grown accustomed to naturalism. Overall, I appreciate that it is many-layered and distinctively English. I hope it accomplished its worthy goal of raising morale during the WWII.
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Fantastic history chronicle with inspiring portrayal
angel_de_tourvel28 June 2004
This is seriously fantastic stuff. As many others will know by now, I am a huge fan of Laurence Olivier's work, but this inspirational and revelatory performance surpasses all. The first and most important thing is the timing. Incredible!! Olivier managed to get the whole thing together in time for D-Day! (sorry, that was not quite relevant) The fact is, his portrayal of King Henry V had a deliberate purpose to it... he wanted to give England courage in the war they were fighting, just as King Harry had courage against the french.

Everything, the sets, the colours, all are so majestic and wonderfully theatrical. That's because Olivier did not want to keep his audience on the indifferent grounds of reality. For many in 1944, winning the war was something totally out of reality, just as it was so for the English at the battle of Agincourt. Olivier wished to transport his audience to the god-given victory, and transport them he did. "Once more unto the breach!" Even as a little fourteen-year-old viewer of Sir Laurence speaking these famous words this gave me the curious inspiration... the same that it gave to Winston Churchill sixty years ago. For me, I don't know what the inspiration was for. For Churchill, it was claiming victory in world war 2.

Whatever your taste, background, or personality; this film is inspirational, and recommended viewing for everyone. You would be missing something terrible if you did not see this pure patron of an actor grace the screen majestically with his regal inspiration.
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Larry makes the most charming king
o_levina30 October 2001
The film precisely met the requirement to raise moral of Englishmen during the Second World War: it is cheering and inspiring. But in fact it is more than just a patriotic propaganda. Henry V, though made during the war, is an excellent beginning of the series of Olivier's Shakespearean films. I really like it as much as later Hamlet and Richard III. May be the play doesn't seem very distinguished when you read it, but the screen-version becomes exciting, complex and brilliant. It has the amusing beginning (clever allusion to medieval Shakespearean theatre), heroic main part (without unnecessary battle details) and touching happy ending (the scene of Henry wooing Princess Katharine moves me every time I watch it). Lord Laurence is so noble as the King Henry! You can really feel his inspiration and share his emotions. Whenever Olivier's a producer, it's his habit to focus the audience's attention mostly on the main character. Sometimes I think his selection of plays for filming was determined by the amount of time his hero must be on the stage. Well, to say the truth, it's perfectly justified! There never was and never will be any Shakespearean actor comparable to Laurence Olivier! His performance is superb. In the part of Henry the Fifth he is absolutely fascinating, far above any real monarch in dignity, nobility and attractiveness. In fact the whole film is fascinating and picturesque. Princess Katharine is very charming and adequate, and other actors are well chosen too. The way English actors pronounce Shakespearean text is always more natural and expressive than the way of any other nation's actors, distinguished as they may be. I dare say that Englishmen understand something about Shakespeare that we can't get. Anyone who truly estimates Shakespeare must love this film.
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Shakespeare As Poetic Pageant
nk_gillen19 June 2004
"Henry V" is poetry within the historical context of English patriotic pageantry. As Shakespearean scholar J. Dover Wilson observed in a 1943 critique, it justifies and celebrates a well-ordered vision of British conservative values – respect for the monarchy and a rigid feudal class-system. And as Pauline Kael asserted in 1989, Shakespeare's text "is perhaps the greatest jingo play ever conceived."

At the beginning, a Prologue asks us to imagine "a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene" rather than "the flat unraised spirits...on this unworthy scaffold." Laurence Olivier, who directed this 1944 film version, heeds the misgivings expressed in that Prologue. While his staging of "Henry V" begins within the enclosed intimacy of a studio-created Globe Theatre, acted before an appropriately attired Elizabethan audience, Olivier uses the medium of Cinema to physically "open up" the play as it progresses from scene to scene, increasingly taking advantage of elaborate studio scenery and lighting and mattes, ultimately using vast exterior locations for the climactic Battle of Agincourt.

Olivier, in the lead role, is a forceful King Harry, but his work and imagination behind the camera are stunning, especially for a first-time director. The humor of the fumbling "unraised spirits" who impersonate the roles of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) and the Bishop of Ely (Robert Helpmann) is an early surprise, as is the coarse high-jinks of Robert Newton's interpretation of Pistol, chewing up the scenery and everyone in sight. As a director, Olivier borrows from the conventions of the stage, but it isn't so much that he copies them; he transforms them. Thus, he shows us a fleet of miniature warships engulfed in an English Channel fog, a "narrator" superimposed against painted, moving backdrops, and (at the end) the bleak French postwar countryside – a zone of pillage, poverty, and heartbreak in the aftermath of battle.

This version of "Henry V" was made with a wartime audience in mind. (The 'V' in the title is a perfect symbolic reference to the times.) Here, the effete, overconfident Dauphin (Max Adrian) and other French nobles stand in for the Axis alliance; the common men who make up the motley army of archers and infantry are a parallel to the agents of 20th-century anti-authoritarianism. The French losses total about ten thousand – 8,400 of which are "princes, barons, lords, knights, squires,/And gentlemen of blood and quality." The English fatalities: only "five and twenty score." An overwhelming victory for the forces of medieval anti-Fascism.
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Great Fun But Not A Great Starting Point
Dan1863Sickles16 October 2018
When I saw this movie at age 13 or so, I was terribly disappointed because it was clear that this is the third part in the story. Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 come before this play, and they tell the story of Sir John Falstaff and his friendship with Prince Hal ( who is Henry V in this play.) The first two plays also introduce Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, and Mistress Quickly. Unfortunately, this play starts after Falstaff has been banished and Prince Hal has become King.

This play is a lot of fun, but it's very frustrating if you haven't read the earlier plays. There are so many poignant (or funny) moments that point backwards. Even the pretend audience at the beginning seems to feel that they want Falstaff back! The best acting moments in this movie are all scenes where the lower characters remember Falstaff and mourn his death.

Of course, there are some heroic battles and speeches in this movie, but looking back after forty years they don't seem as impressive as when I was 13. The great battle is actually over fairly quickly. And a lot of the later scenes drag, like when Captain Fluellen makes Pistol eat his leek. This is played as very bad slapstick when it's actually very violent and brutal in the play.
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For Harry and St. George at Agincourt on St. Crispin's Day
bkoganbing4 December 2005
Previous to this film, Laurence Olivier had only one experience with Shakespeare on the screen, 1936's As You Like It. It was not a work that Olivier was terribly proud of. He did determine right there that if he were to do Shakespeare again, he would have complete creative control. Olivier did just that, on this film and every other filmed adaption of the Bard that he was involved in.

Olivier's desire happily coincided with Winston Churchill's desire to make some good British propaganda for the war effort. Churchill was fond of what he called Shakespeare's "war plays" and Henry V definitely qualifies in that category. He gave Olivier whatever logistical help he needed and remember a war was on. Even to the extent of arranging with Eamon DeValera permission for Olivier to bring the entire Henry V crew to the Irish Republic so that the outdoor scenes could be filmed away from Nazi bombardment.

Olivier chooses an interesting method of introducing the play. It opens with a scene of 16th century London at the Globe Theatre at the opening night. The play begins with Leslie Banks as the Chorus reading the introduction and the first scenes are filmed as simply a photographed stage play. After that first scene at Henry V at his court, spitting defiance at the French herald and having his retainers go through an elaborate justification for his claim to the French throne. We then as the Chorus bids us have our imagination take flight until the end of the play when it returns to the stage this time with Henry V marrying the French princess and sealing his claim to their throne.

I believe what Olivier wanted to do was show the play through two sets of eyes. He wants the audience to imagine they are in Elizabethan England watching the events of a century before and know that things looked pretty grim then for England and they pulled out of it.

The battle scenes at Harfleur and at Agincourt are nicely staged and photographed. Olivier's Henry V is a strong and virile leader, convinced of the rightness of his cause and he has the confidence in himself as military leader to see it through. Kind of like the Prime Minister who was in office then.

Certainly in the Middle Ages the high point of English arms was at Agincourt. It was truly one lopsided victory, English long-bowmen against French knights. The French cavalry was truly decimated on that day and a lot of their nobility was killed. And the French were the betting favorites.

Seen today though it's a bit different. The Hundred Years War, and this was the second phase of it, was quite frankly a naked war of aggression by the English to obtain the French throne. In 1944 audiences thrilled to remember this impressive feet of arms by the English, but the reasons were kind of glossed over.

Still Henry V is an impressive motion picture and I'm sure it did what it set out to do, be a morale booster for the English public. Among other performers I liked in this were Robert Newton as the ancient Pistol and Leslie Banks as the chorus and Valentine Dyall as the Duke of Burgundy.

But I would wager that Charles DeGaulle was not invited to the premier showing of Henry V.
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"Still be kind, and eke out our performance with your mind"
Steffi_P22 December 2007
It's perhaps surprising that when people from a theatrical background turn to film directing, they tend to produce pictures that are purely cinematic and freed from staginess. This is the case with Laurence Olivier, as it was with Rouben Mamoulian and Orson Welles. Here, with his debut feature as director, Olivier not only created a landmark propaganda film, but also redefined the screen Shakespeare adaptation and established a new precedent of renowned actor turning competent director.

Shakespeare's play of Henry V was of course ideal for a wartime morale booster, featuring as it does heroic action, rousing speeches, historical parallels with the landings at France, a protagonist who is valiant yet warm and humane, as well as plenty of little extra touches such as exploring the psychology of the troops on the eve of battle and stressing the need for unity between English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh. It was also the perfect play for Olivier to test his ideas on how a Shakespeare play should be turned into a film. The chorus of Shakespeare's original text tells the audience that the great battles and courts can scarcely be contained on a stage and that you must "on your imaginative forces work". Using this idea as his starting point, Olivier begins the film with a recreation of a contemporary production of the original play at the Globe theatre, complete with backstage glimpses, bumbling actors and a rowdy Elizabethan audience. Then, as Leslie Banks' chorus commands the audience to "work your thoughts", the theatre disappears, and the action subtly opens out into larger sets. Eventually, we are transported to location with thousands of extras for the climactic battle scene.

This was not only a complete reworking of screen Shakespeare, it was part of a whole approach to cinema. Olivier's Henry V, although totally different in content, is stylistically in the same tradition as Michael Powell's The Red Shoes or the elaborate ballet sequences of MGM musicals, which also expand would-be stage performances into pure cinematic fantasy. The originator of this approach was probably Busby Berkeley, who also made the switch from stage to screen, albeit from the music hall to the role of choreographer for screen musicals. The musical sequences that Berkeley constructed for Warner Brothers musicals in the mid-1930s always begin with a stage production, but then turn into tour-de-forces of choreography, camera positioning and massive sets, all of which could never be contained or properly appreciated on a stage. Olivier is effectively doing the same thing with a Shakespeare play as Berkeley did with a dancing chorus line.

Of course, all this alone isn't what makes Henry V a great work. For a first-time director Olivier's eye is remarkably sharp. He keeps the action smooth in dialogue scenes by making use of long takes, and preferring to move the camera to change the framing rather than breaking the shot with a cut, often dollying in on a single actor to achieve a close-up. He's not quite experienced enough yet though to give these shots a really natural flow, and he doesn't really get the chance to show off his talents as a dramatic director as he would later in Hamlet and Richard III. Having said that, he does manage to give remarkable tenderness to Henry's soliloquy on the eve of battle and his courtship of Kate towards the end of the film.

The highpoint however is the impressive Agincourt battle sequence, which was influenced by the battle in Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, but is actually an improvement on the Russian master's equivalent work. He similarly builds up tension as the opposing army begins its charge, using a rhythmic editing pattern and dynamic close-ups. However, whereas Alexander Nevsky's battle occasionally looked obviously staged and unrealistic, in Henry V you could as well be witnessing a genuine medieval battle.

Olivier selected a top notch cast composed of actors with theatre experience like himself, with exuberant performances from Robert Newton as the cowardly Pistol and Esmond Knight as Welsh captain Fluellen, and too many other great names to mention. Olivier himself, after a decade of learning how to act for screen, perhaps relished the chance to give huge, concert-hall-filling Shakespearean delivery again, although he does manage to rein his performance in again for the quieter scenes.

Henry V is remarkable for a director's debut feature. Olivier would direct two more prestigious Shakespeare adaptations, as well as a few dramas, but Henry V is his freshest and most engaging work as a director, and still remains the best.
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Valuable cinematic Shakespeare
jhboswell12 July 2005
Now that we have a fairly long history of quality Shakespeare in the movies, I believe it's fair to compare this film to others, as many have already done. But I'll skip comparisons to the young Kenneth Branagh. What I would like to emphasize is the social importance here, both originally and with this 1944 production.

This play was written to celebrate a great English hero, and to stir up patriotism for a profit. (Shakespeare was a successful businessman.) The movie was made for the same reasons, and its value is in how well it accomplishes them.

It's very valuable.

The film was conceived and made in some dark times for England, and the production occasionally had to stop because of enemy bombers overhead. It could have been thrown off a lot more cheaply and had the same commercial return, but instead Lord Olivier presented a stylish, inspiring, entertaining epic of heroism. I really, really enjoyed the play-within-a-play motif: it was wonderfully fun to see the Globe and the playgoers of the day. I found the acting to be fully satisfying, all the way from a hilarious Robert Newton (he was never this funny anywhere else) as Pistol to Leslie Banks nearly stealing the show as (only) the Chorus. Bravura performances all around--at least from the males, since I have to fast-forward the love scene with Kate.

I also appreciated the action scenes, the color and spectacle--and let's face it, the way Lord Olivier could rip off the St Crispian's speech! So, what we have is a wonderful slice of history, expertly presented. Really good Shakespeare.
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Historical epic of young English king who waged war against the French
mnfried21 April 1999
Olivier was asked by his government to make this film during the second world war to raise the morale of civilians and troops alike. He abstained from showing excessive blood and gore, used the language of Shakespeare brilliantly and achieved his mission. I have seen this film many times and it never fails to thrill me. The story line is commonly known, we know how happily it came out in the end. It was the first Shakespearian play made on film in color and enthralled all who saw it.
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Worthwhile but Overrated
bobtaurus28 December 2006
Olivier's conceit of beginning the performance as if performed in the Globe Theater in Shakespeare's time (even depicting the actors backstage), and gradually expanding out to the "real world" works both for and against the film. While it is interesting and educational to see what the experience might have been like for an Elizabethen audience and the performers, it is ultimately slow-paced and distracting from the real story.

The film becomes more engaging once we move out of the theater. However, even then, the general style of acting is too broad, and is more suited for the stage. That is why I'm surprised to see this version rated only a few tenths of a point lower than Kenneth Branagh's vastly superior 1989 production of Henry V.
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Extraordinary work by Olivier raises Henry V to classic level.
alfiefamily7 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Olivier is all over this film. Naturally his acting is superb. His interpretation and delivery of Shakespeare have, in my view, never been surpassed.

His work as producer and director on this film make you appreciate what an expert craftsman he was with a camera as well. From the very first shot where we see the camera pan over a model of late-sixteenth, very early seventeenth century England, we know we are in for something special.

His decision to perform the first part of the play theatrically was a bold and brilliant decision. It gives the audience the "feel" of being in Elizabethan England, and participating,not just watching the play. The actors dropping props or fumbling lines or over-acting, make the play feel real.

And when he finally decides to step outside of the theatrical part of the play, the story is told in such grand scale, with a perfect eye for detail, the audience feels it is on the battlefields.

First rate acting all around. Beautiful sets and costumes. Terrific score sounds perfect for the period.
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Worthy film but slightly too much on the side of flag waving for my tastes
bob the moo5 October 2003
With tensions between England and the arrogant French pushed to breaking point, King Henry the Fifth sets out with his armies to conquer and quell the French in their native land. The film builds up with to the historic battle of Agincourt with the troops and the king camping together and making progress across the land.

Whenever Henry V (to use the shorten title) comes on TV I always tape it simply because I always assume that it is a masterpiece of English cinema – such is it's reputation in many circles. However this reputation may not be that well deserved as I have decided from my viewing of it today. The plot is Shakespeare and I will not criticise it, but I know myself that it is not a story that I would pick if asked to chose from his canon of work – I prefer the darker stuff or the out and out comedies. That aside the film tells a straightforward tale, here used to raise morale and fly the flag of Britain and England during WWII. As such it works but I needed it to be more than just a flag waving exercise, I wanted more detail and more thought. Such scenes exist within the play but Olivier does not use them as well as he uses the grandstanding speeches and battle scene – his focus is not on thought but on scale.

As director he does quite well in early stages and in the actual battle itself. The device of opening ad closing in the playhouse works to good effect and is clever but far too many scenes have poor camera angles or are poorly framed. The battle scene is good but too much of the film is ordinary in terms of looks and style. As actor Olivier carries the King well but is too one dimensional for me and I didn't have to put any thought into him to watch the film. He holds back for much of the film but leaps up for more upbeat scenes or rousing speeches. The support cast all sound natural with the dialogue although some of the roles are a little bit hammy, they still hold the film together well.

Overall this is an enjoyable film that has good spectacle to it and key scenes are very good. However the lack of anything under the surface is a problem and it is one of the lesser Shakespearean adaptations I have seen. Still worth a look but if you're like me, you'll be left wondering `was that it?'
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Henry V
jboothmillard9 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I had seen the Kenneth Branagh remake prior to this original, but I can see why this is considered a film to put in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, from producer and debuting director Lord Sir Laurence Olivier. Based on the play by William Shakespeare, the film starts in London's Globe Theatre with the story of the film being seen as a play, with King Henry V of England (Oscar nominated Olivier) hearing that his country face war against France. Then after thirty minutes it goes into the epic cinematic mode where the youthful monarch proves his ability as a skillful leader and soldier for his army going to Agincourt. Henry and the French court try to bring peace, and he woos Princess Katharine (Renée Asherson) as he was betrothed to her anyway as part of the peace agreement, and all is settled in the end, going back to the play set-up. Also starring Robert Newton as Ancient Pistol, Leslie Banks as Chorus, Esmond Knight as Fluellen, Leo Genn as The Constable of France, Ralph Truman as Mountjoy - The French Herald, Harcourt Williams as King Charles VI of France, Ivy St. Helier as Alice, Ernest Thesiger as Duke of Berri - French Ambassador, Max Adrian as The Dauphin, Francis Lister as Duke of Orleans, Valentine Dyall as Duke of Burgundy, Russell Thorndike as Duke of Bourbon, Michael Shepley as Gower, John Laurie as Jamy, Niall MacGinnis as Macmorris, Felix Aylmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, Nicholas Hannen as Duke of Exeter, Robert Helpmann as Bishop of Ely, Freda Jackson as Mistress Quickly, Jimmy Hanley as Williams and George Robey as Sir John Falstaff. Both the direction and the leading performance by Olivier are very good, the idea of opening in the play format is quite clever, and the battle sequence is a good bit of spectacle for the slightly confusing dialogue, a colourful classic historical drama. It was nominated the Oscars for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Best Music for William Walton, the Honorary Award for outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director for Olivier, and Best Picture. Very good!
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chadport16 April 2005
I watched both of Olivier's and Branagh's versions of Henry V and can't believe there would be any debate that Olivier's is the BEST!!! To newer generations, Branagh might be more alluring in more sophisticated technical cinematic special-effects but Olivier's version is much more in line with what "The Bard" had in mind. I have read reviews by peers of my own generation (I am in my early 30's) and constantly hear a critique of Olivier as appearing too "stagey". COME ON PEOPLE, Shakespeare IS ALLLLLLL ABOUT "THE STAGE"--and the interaction of that Stage with a theatrical audience--after-all, Shakespeare was not meant to be viewed in MEGA-CINEPLEX 10-- I think that Branagh's version falls short exactly because it takes it off the stage and tries to make it into a movie..it truly loses something in the process. Olivier's brilliance is that no one/BAR NONE had a more comprehensive command over Shakespeare's language, intonation, and intention in acting, which is perhaps exactly why-to this day-his vision was so "right-on" as a director. With Branagh, I was always aware I was watching a film whereas with Olivier, I became so absorbed in the play that I forgot what medium I was watching it through. This is extraordinarily helped by the fact that Olivier really puts this in historical context for us-i.e, opens his film up ON THE STAGE OF THE 16th century GLOBE THEATRE...he takes us down from an aerial view (with the surrounding architecture of a 16th century English hamlet) into the intimacies of the stage, behind the stage, and ultimately the "players" interaction with the almost bawdy 16th century audience -whose permission to imagine/visualize the story they were about to weave before our eyes was humbly asked of its participants common audience.) Olivier also reminds us (through this) that though today we tend to relegate Shakespeare to "high-fallutin' types, thus preempting the fact that the audience of the day and age was anything but-which really humanizes the experience for us-makes it more tangible-Shakespeare was (at the time) truly written FOR and given permission to exist BY "the more common masses". Even Branagh's revisionist version of Henry V had to acknowledge Olivier's brilliance in this transition between theatrical illusion and audience acknowledgment except Branagh uses the much darker interior of a Hollywood-like studio, which though it might make it more accessible for a younger audience more accustomed to movies than theater (in my opinion) falls short of giving us the true ambiance of how Shakespeare was intended to be seen. BUT THE TRUE SUCCESS OF OLIVIER'S SUBSEQUENT EXECUTION of the play is that he VERY SEAMLESSLY transitions off the stage and into the countryside of England, crossing the English Channel to France, and finally the culminating battle of Agincourt without the viewer even being aware this has happened. But every brilliant writer knows that he must bring his subject back full circle to where it opened-and subsequently Olivier brings us back onto the stage of our 16th century Globe theater before humbly addressing the audience upon whose success or failure of the plays ability to have conjured their imaginations solely relies. Of course Olivier's "prop-technicolor- 1940's and 50's backdrops might seem too unsophisticated for a younger audience but how he executes the play (and most important) where he takes our own imaginations in the process is why this version will always provide the penultimate experience.
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This may be a decent movie, but it's bad literature.
dr_foreman21 April 2007
Even glowing reviews of Olivier's "Henry V" acknowledge that this movie is a simplified, stripped-down version of the classic play; the morally ambiguous elements of Henry's character have been hacked out, and the story has been made more aggressively patriotic to appeal to a World War II audience.

Well...OK...but ain't that rather a big problem? I mean to ask, what's so great about seeing Shakespeare doctored up into war propaganda? Certainly, the original play was somewhat patriotic and gung-ho, but it also contained moral gray area, which is eliminated here. Hence, this is an inferior adaptation that waters down its source material.

OK, so there's no denying that this movie is cleverly staged. The opening scenes set in the Globe are pretty imaginative, and there's an energy to the pacing that works. But still, so many elements strike a false note. Olivier, for instance, seems to shout out his lines without subtlety, as though trying too hard to generate excitement.

I also don't really like the look of the film. The Globe scenes work fine, but once Olivier leaves the theater, the action is staged on large but incredibly fake-looking sets. The whole production looks too phony, too clean, too sanitized. Henry doesn't get a splatter of mud or a drop of blood on himself in the battle. It's all ridiculously pristine, and safe, and not at all daring. In short, it's "feel-good" Shakespeare.

Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film version is, to be perfectly blunt, almost infinitely better than this movie. It's grittier, darker, and closer to the original play (including the moral gray area). By comparison, the Olivier version looks like "March of the Wooden Soldiers." Don't get me wrong, I usually love 1940s movies because I think they have better scripts than contemporary films - but, I make an exception for literary adaptations, which tend to be more faithful and more powerful today than ever before. Thus, the 1980s Henry V can indeed be better than its '40s counterpart.

To me, this film is best understood in the context of World War II. As a wartime production, it's impressive - but it remains tied to that period, and therefore it is fundamentally dated. The original play, on the other hand, is timeless.
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A movie not without its weaknesses but still a more than great first go from Laurence Olivier on Shakespeare, on the silver screen.
Boba_Fett11388 March 2009
No doubt Laurence Olivier must have been real proud of this project. It's really 'his' movie, since he directed, produced as well as played the main lead. It actually earned him a special Honary Award during that year's Academy Awards 'for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing 'Henry V' to the screen'.

It's a real Shakespeare movie, so expect lots of stagy looking settings and long dialog. Laurence Olivier however knows to bring it in a good and original way and actually manages to use it's 'stagy' elements to the movie its own advantage.

As an historical movie, concerning mostly the battle of Agincourt, I don't feel the movie is being completely accurate. The movie is a bit too patriotic by purely picking the British side, by showing how noble and brave they all were. It's presented as if Henry V willingly and fully knowingly walked into about, against a much bigger French force. Reason why the British won the battle of Agincourt was because of the supremacy of their longbows and the fact that the French completely underestimated them and made some tactical blunders during the battle. I don't really see much of that back in this movie. Also some of the cruelties being committed by the British and the mistakes they made during the campaign are simply not shown or mentioned in the movie really. The movie actually got financed by the British government, thinking that it would be a good moral boost for the English citizens and those fighting abroad, during WW II. So Shakespeare used as propaganda, how odd is that? This is not really something uncommon by the way. 'Old' movies often were very black & white with its themes. So good was being entirely good and bad totally bad. It's also not really something that troubled me too much but by todays standards its too simple and too outdated for the present movie norms.

Also for a movie about the 'chronicle history of King Henry V' the story focuses surprisingly little on the aspects of Henry V's life before and also certainly after the battle of Agincourt. The story ends at the peak of his life. But of course thing to blame for that is the movie its source, William Shakespeare's play, from 1600.

It's pretty nice that this is a 1944 movie that got shot entirely in color (also much have been one of the reasons for its high budget though). It's actually the first ever Shakespeare movie to be made entirely in color. Still I feel that it would had suited the movie and its story better if it had been done in black & white. It would had suited the acting performances and the historical settings and characters all better.

It's not like I hated this movie, of course not- far from it, but I don't want to sound all praising about it either. It's a good movie that however is not without its flaws and perhaps would had been a better one had it been made a decade earlier, at the time Laurence Olivier was playing the character on stage already. So not during WW II and not in color.

But there is simply no denying it that this is such a well made and handled movie. Olivier did well and came to some creative solutions but by staying as much to the original source as possible, despite its undeniable WW II influences.

The movie is perhaps at its best during the famous battle but also its dialog provide the movie with some real fireworks. A Shakespeare movie of course always has some amazing and often memorable dialog, especially when it remains so faithful to its source as this movie did. It of course also helps that the lines are being delivered by some real fine and capable actors. Laurence Olivier was an actor that simply lived and breathed Shakespeare throughout his career.

A must-see for the fans of Shakespeare.


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Propaganda -- good propaganda.
rmax30482324 July 2004
The poetry is sublime. A little touch of Harry in the night Once more, dear friends, once more unto the breach.

The history is bent in favor of the English. On a pretext, Henry and his troops invade France and surround a city. Henry demands that the city be surrendered so that he doesn't have to send his soldiers inside to fight and pillage. Oh, please, don't make us invade your city and rape your women and smash your babies' brains out against the wall. Please -- give up before you make us do this. Show us that you have destroyed your WMDs. (Oops.) It reminds me of an incident in Philadelphia when a neighbor in his underwear pounded on my door at midnight and begged me to call the police. Three armed robbers had entered his house to loot it. One thief held a knife against my neighbor's throat, saying, "Don't make me do it, man. Don't make me do it." The victim lost his goods but got away, throat intact. But, as Joan Crawford once asked, "Whom is kidding whom around here?"

How does Olivier, the director and principal, handle the production? Pretty well. The movie's the thing, you know, and he does an extremely good job of managing it. Clearly he's watched a couple of Errol Flynn movies. He has lightly clad men armed only with knives dropping from the branches onto heavily armored French knights. (Cf., Robin Hood.) He has a shot of a line of French knights and gaily flapping flags advancing towards the English at Agincourt, first at a walk, then a trot, then a gallop. (Cf., The Charge of the Light Brigade.) But he has some unexpectedly original shots too -- a startling brief glimpse of a horse's bared teeth in the midst of battle.

Harry was a thumotic and mischievous young kid who "heard the chimes at Midnight" with his friend, Sir John Falstaff. Here he's a king and thrusts Falstaff aside. (If you want to see Falstaff in excelsis you must see The Merry Wives of Windsor.) That's a pretty lousy thing for anyone to do. "I know thee not, old man," says Henry, breaking the man's spirit and his body as well.

Harry's claim to the throne of France is bull****. In the play it takes up a lot of time, ratiocination by bishops who are trying to avoid taxes. Some gobbledygook about the Salic law entitling Henry to the throne of France, which had heretofore been either ignored or forgotten. It's all glossed over, here, with some slapstick comedy, as it might as well be, since no one can follow it anyway.

The French are turned into outright villains -- foppish, insulting, comic (a scene of a fully armored French knight being lowered jerkily onto his horse by means of a winch). Oh, they're sadists too. They raid Henry's supply camps and butcher the young boys they find there.

But there's no denying the impact of the play. You'll get caught up in it. And, if you don't know what a Bohemian Henry V was, or how close he was to Sir John Falstaff, and if the movie's "four score and five" English dead after Agincourt was an undercount if there ever was one, what difference does it make? This is fiction, not history.

Lawrence Olivier's performance can't go unmentioned though. It's just plain superb. He was a truly great actor, and there may never have been a Henry V (or a Hamlet) that was his equal.

Anyway, Henry V invades France and marries some high-class babe. The courtship is quickly done and involves some racy punning, most of which got by me and left me unscathed. England DID wind up ruling parts of northern France, as I remember, but not for long after Henry's departure.
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A film which made a major contribution to cinematographic art
bbhlthph25 June 2003
My copy is on 2 VCD disks created from a betamax tape recording made almost 25 years ago on an old TV with antenna, yet it is still a magnificent film which well repays repeated viewing. Your user comments on this film reveal many interesting facts about it, but to me seem to all miss the main point.

Both Branagh and Olivier have produced magnificent films of this play, with superb acting and direction, which have been given outstanding reviews time and again. They are very different, ultimately because they were intended to deliver different political messages. Funding for a major motion picture today always requires the Director to meet the expectations of the backers and these films are no exception. Olivier's version was produced in 1944 at a time when there was a serious risk of freedom disappearing from Europe, perhaps for centuries. The U.K. had won the battle of Britain but was in imminent risk of losing the vital Battle of the Atlantic. Olivier was at sea involved in this battle, and must have been extremely well aware of this risk, when he was called upon to make a film which would help boost civilian morale. It's message is therefore essentially pro-war. Branagh's version came at the time when the Vietnam war made the public very aware of the need to be convinced any war could lead to benefits that would outweigh the associated pain and destruction. It is therefore essentially an anti-war film. (this has led many North Americans to rate it more highly than Olivier's version, which I believe is totally unjustified.). Both Directors took liberties with Shakespeare's text to support their objective - in both cases this has weakened the film. The politics which are most relevant to these films are those of Tudor England. Henry V appeared at a time not unlike that when Olivier made his film. It was printed anonymously, apparently first appearing in 1598 but no doubt completed well before this. It must have been in gestation at a time when England was, or had just been, under major threat from the Spanish armada. Its political objective was to exploit the success of a then relatively recent English king for support of the Tudor regime, by boosting patriotic fervor for the current monarch. Shakespeare almost always generated well rounded characters so that his heroes clearly displayed their human failings, whilst his worst villains showed greatness which was not realized through some often minor human failings, his Henry V is a typical mediaeval monarch and any attempts to portray him as either pure patriot or pure aggressor are serious distortions.

Olivier's film was created under very serious technical difficulties, he could not find a suitable venue in the U.K. and France was clearly unavailable. The Irish government had to be clearly neutral and were largely uncooperative. All supplies were short, especially colour stock, and he is said to have had only one colour camera available. It is amazing that the film could be completed and the production standard it achieved is almost a miracle. Branagh had the advantage of muddy weather which enabled him to exploit the important historical fact that the bogging down of the French cavalry in mud was a major factor in the English success, but this is not relevant to Shakespeare's play. Ultimately understanding of all these points makes enjoyment of both films greater, but they are only marginally relevant to my assessment. Henry V is one of the very few films which demands to be judged by its contribution to the development of cinematographic art - no doubt this explains Olivier's honorary Oscar.

To establish cinematography as an independent art form; early directors introduced long panning shots, views from tall buildings, shots made from trains and planes, etc. These successfully distinguished their product from the theatre. Less successfully they began to rely on mood music to register anger, fear, lust, or other emotions. Their problems were made more acute by TV drama, and studio bosses unfortunately jumped at the introduction of anamorphic lenses to change the aspect ration of a cinema screen (in a typical art gallery perhaps 10-15% of the exhibits use an abnormal aspect ratio, why should any film director think he can get away with doing so all the time?). Since then the artistic quality of most movies has steadily degenerated, giving way to increasingly bizarre and expensive special effects, and often to pure fantasy, whilst the sound tracks have got louder and even less meaningful. The Shakespearean play with long soliloquies delivered by static characters relies almost entirely on the cadences of the words and could hardly be more remote to modern cinematography. Olivier's genius was his ability to present Shakespearean drama in a way which was meaningful in a cinema, and simultaneously to deliver Shakespearean English so effectively that a modern audience almost feels it is contemporary speech. Henry V was a particularly difficult film to treat in this way because of the very length nighttime pre-battle scenes where almost total darkness did nothing to help distract the audience from the actors delivery. Later filmmakers owe an enormous debt to Olivier for pointing the way to create successful films that do not fit the stereotypes we expect today.

When I try to think of films that have made a major contribution to the art form of cinematography, two particularly come to mind - Fantasia, which first showed that real music could be a major attraction in a modern film, and Henry V where William Walton's magnificent score also contributed greatly to Olivier's triumph. Gone with the Wind is often regarded as another important film in this category. Its production and acting were immaculate (although it is greatly overlong), and it is an outstanding example of very early and successful use of colour stock. Essentially however it was traditional cinematography for its time, and it did not make the same contribution to the development of cinematographic art as either Fantasia or Henry V.
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Olivier in His Prime
JamesHitchcock6 December 2007
I have never really considered "Henry V" to be one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. It lacks the philosophical depth and emotional power of the great tragedies or even of some of the other history plays, such as "Richard III". It is a play which mythologises an English king whose main achievement was to start an unnecessary war with France. As Shakespeare knew well, Agincourt was a great victory in the short term but a futile one in the long term. Henry's early death meant that his great ambition of uniting the French and English crowns was never realised; the United Kingdom of England and France remains one of the great might-have-beens of world history. Moreover, modern audiences might have another problem with this play. By modern standards (which were not necessarily the standards of either Shakespeare's day or of Henry's) the English were the aggressors in the Hundred Years War; even by mediaeval standards, Henry's claim to the French throne was by no means as clear-cut as Shakespeare imagined.

Despite these difficulties, "Henry V" has been the subject of two of the greatest cinematic Shakespeare adaptations, this one and Kenneth Branagh's version from 1989. One reason is that it contains some of Shakespeare's most magnificent poetry and some of his greatest set-piece speeches, mostly put into the mouth of Henry himself. It is therefore a very tempting role for Shakespearean actors, especially those who can speak blank verse as naturally as Olivier or Branagh.

The two films are very different in style. Branagh's naturalistic film emphasises the bloodshed and squalor of war; contrary to what is sometimes thought, mediaeval warfare was not necessarily more chivalrous, or even less bloody, than the modern version. (The bloodiest day in British military history, when some 26,000 were killed, was 29th March 1461, the date of the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses). Olivier's film is highly stylised rather than naturalistic. The scenes set in England are presented as a re-enactment of how the play might have been performed at the Globe theatre during Shakespeare's own lifetime. The French scenes were shot against sets based upon paintings from the early fifteenth century, especially the work of the Limbourg brothers. The battle scenes are more realistic, but even these play down the elements of blood and cruelty.

Olivier's film- the first which he directed- was commissioned by the British Government as a patriotic morale-booster during the Second World War. The decision to portray war as something glorious rather than bloody was therefore a quite deliberate one. A sharp contrast is drawn between the heroic Henry and his French counterparts. Those parts of Shakespeare's play which show Henry in a less favourable light, such as his order to kill the French prisoners, are omitted, apparently on the instructions of Churchill, who did not want the film's patriotic message to be clouded by moral ambiguities. The French King, Charles VI, is portrayed as a senile old fool, and his son the Dauphin Louis as not only an arrogant popinjay but also a sadistic brute who slaughters non-combatants such as the young boys in the English baggage train. Stress is placed on those scenes which show the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish captains fighting together against a common enemy. (Shakespeare was probably looking ahead to the unification of the English and Scottish crowns under James I and VI, which was to take place a few years after his play was written; it is perhaps no accident that the Scottish captain is called Jamie).

Of the two films I would- marginally- prefer Branagh's, which seems more relevant to a modern audience. Yet there is much about the earlier film which is of value even today. Some of the supporting performances are very good, especially from Harcourt Williams as the mad old Charles, Max Adrian as the Dauphin and Leslie Banks as the Chorus (who speaks some of the most poetic speeches not given to Henry). This is one of the few British films of the early forties shot in colour, and the colours are particularly vivid and jewel-like, making the film far more visually spectacular than Branagh's. Above all, this film gives the chance to later generations to see one of Britain's finest classical actors, at the peak of his powers, taking the leading role in a Shakespearean drama. 8/10
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A wartime Henry V
Red-1253 March 2014
Sir Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944) is very much a movie of its time. Filmed during WW II, the film is an overt example of pro-British propaganda. I don't see that as a problem, because Shakespeare wrote the play in a way that would glorify Britain and its king.

So, director Olivier had no problem directing himself as a strong, warlike king, who rules a strong warlike country. More important is what Olivier didn't portray--the king's flaws and the horrific nature of war. Mud played a major role in the British victory at Agincourt. However, in this film, all we see is a brief shot of a horse prancing through a puddle. The combat scenes aren't very graphic. (If your husband or son is serving in combat, you don't want to be reminded of the horrors he is undergoing.)

Olivier begins the film as if we were seeing it at the Globe theatre in London. Then he opens the film up, and we get "realistic" outdoor scenes. (For safety, the location scenes were filmed in neutral Ireland.). At the end, we return to the Globe to remind us that we are seeing a play. This is an interesting device; I thought it worked.

The movie was shot in color, which looks garish today. However, even garish color is better than b/w in my opinion, because the heraldic colors meant so much within the chivalric code of the times.

We saw this film on a classroom-sized large screen. Some of the pageantry will be lost on a small screen, but it will work well enough. This is an enjoyable and important movie. It's worth seeking out and viewing.
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