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Henry V
Coxer998 June 1999
Excellent return to Shakespeare's young King Henry with 28 year old Branagh perfectly filling the shoes Olivier tried so hard to fill 40 plus years before. Branagh, who also directed, brings the film to life with exciting battle scenes, a first rate supporting cast that features the fine Shakespearean veteran Jacobi as the Chorus. Also with Holm, Bannen, the always reliable Brian Blessed and Emma Thompson. The story is better told and moves about at a much better pace than previous Shakespeare films. Branagh started an incredible trend with this film. (Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Othello) He was Oscar nominated as Actor and Director for his work here. The film won for Costuming.
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Tis a triumph at evr'y turn: Shakespeare and Branagh Move Thy Heart and Makest Ye Wishth that One Had English Blood Pure of Nobilitie
classicalsteve6 September 2009
According to William Shakespeare, on the morn of the Battle of Agincourt (1415), one of the final military confrontations during the 100-Years War between France and England, the English troops exhibit hesitancy and consternation toward this monumental of tasks at hand. They have been engaged in a long campaign on French soil having just trekked several hundred miles toward Calais to return to England. Kenneth Branagh as King Henry V suddenly appears among his soldiers and speaks the words that inspire his noble "brethren". Here is but an excerpt:

"This day is called the Feast of Crispian: He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:' Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.' Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, But he'll remember with advantages What feats he did that day: then shall our names. These are words that would make any man fight for his brethren." (Act IV, Scene 3)

No one knows exactly when William Shakespeare wrote Henry V (aka The Cronicle History of Henry fift, The Life of Henry Fift) except that it was probably penned sometime between the late 1580's and 1590's. Aside from the historical liberties that permeate much of the drama, such as the king's executing anyone who would steal from local French communities (in reality Henry V's troops plundered much of the French countryside during their campaign), Henry V stands as one of Shakespeare's most moving and inspirational achievements. Certainly, the play is very much biased toward the English. While the English are colorful, emotional, and determined, the French are portrayed as conniving and dispassionate, except for the princess Kate. Shakespeare was not intending to teach a lesson in medieval history but rather arouse patriotism among his fellow countrymen. (Is it possible Henry V was written during the time of England's battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588?)

Kenneth Branagh has taken Shakespeare's overly patriotic play and forged a piece that combines the stunning visuals of Hollywood film-making with the high-culture of William Shakespeare into a movie of stunning magnitude that seems nearly incomparable, with the possible exception of Zeffirlli's "Romeo and Juliet". Hollywood films of this type have often been lopsided with great visuals but mediocre scripts. However, in this case, there is no better screenwriter than William Shakespeare. Added to the mix is an outstanding cast of Shakespearian actors who navigate through Shakespeare's blank verse as easily as if they were speaking modern dialogue instead of late 16th-century English. They speak the lines as if they are spontaneously being uttered rather than being remembered from a 400-year-old play. And to give a little bit of spice to the experience, Branagh incorporates a few flashback scenes from Shakespeare's Henry IV in which Prince Hal (not yet Henry V) commiserates with a band of drunkard cronies lead by none-other than one of Shakespeare's most popular characters, Sir John Falstaff.

This play, this noble play, which hast action, adventure and high arte, would be a fine and noble way to show those of young years the arte of Shakespeare. Seest thou this filme, this fine filme. And if thou seest not this filme, I will sadly be forced to come into thy companie and take ye to the theatre, tie ye up to a chair, and make ye watch these actors fine. Aye, ye willst later thank me, for never was there a moment dull.
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A Kingly Feast for the Eyes and Ears
artemis_57 December 2004
"Henry V" marks Kenneth Branagh's greatest achievement to date. Branagh not only directs this rich and visually stunning film, he stars as the title character. The movie opens with Derek Jacobi (Branagh's Shakespearean mentor) in modern garb passionately delivering the prologue. Then we are taken into the dark, dank rooms of Henry's castle. The king makes his dramatic entrance, complete with a Darth Vader style cape.

The entire film is filled with grandeur and pomp, with any faults in the story line being attributable more to Shakespeare himself than Branagh. Henry V as I remember it from my college English class is a decidingly pro-British play (and film). There is little question that France should be conquered, and Henry speaks of his war against France as if it were France that attacked England. Indeed, Henry's famous "St. Chrispin's day speech" is so rousing, that it has been quoted often and inspired the name of the "Band of Brothers" miniseries about World War II. This is no surprise, since Shakespeare's prose is famously beautiful.

There is definitely a difference in the way that both sides of the conflict are presented. The French, at least in Branagh's movie are presented as arrogant (and somewhat effeminate), while on the side of the English, even children are filled with manly courage. Henry is presented as noble, fair, and merciful. True he threatens the mayor of one French town, telling him that if he does not surrender the town, the English will do terrible things to its residents, but does not carry out his threat. He also hangs the one English soldier who steals from a French church, refusing to show favoritism for him just because he was his friend. Apparently mercy towards your own countrymen was not a virtue that Henry saw particularly important.

The films greatest attribute is its soundtrack, particularly the use of music in the scene following the battle of Agincourt in which the warring parties collect their dead for burial.

All in all, a fascinating look inside the mind of a king.
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A Worthy Successor After 5 Decades
schogger1330 December 2002
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 works.

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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"We would not seek a battle as we are, yet as we are, we say we will not shun it."
classicsoncall22 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not a big fan of period costume dramas (or musicals for that matter), but what Kenneth Branagh did here as screenwriter, actor and director served to bring Shakespearean verse to life in a way that would have made using modern dialog an injustice. I'm not that familiar with Shakespeare apart from cursory study in high school, and with that being so far in the past, the film was a welcome departure from more traditional movie fare for this viewer. One mention in particular was surprising to hear, that of a 'band of brothers' referred to in Henry's St. Crispin's speech, only to learn a short time later that the verse actually inspired the title of that acclaimed World War II mini-series. I thought Branagh's Henry was quite eloquent in motivating his men to battle, and no less so in wooing the French Princess Kate (Emma Thompson). The film itself and Branagh's delivery is decidedly pro-England, but then again, so was William Shakespeare, and with this film one gains a measure of the bard's rich language and emotion.
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Very well crafted
TheLittleSongbird9 March 2011
I like Kenneth Branagh's Shakespeare films, and Henry V is one of his better ones. The play is a very good one, and this film does it justice.

Visually, it is very beautiful to look at, with interesting camera angles and great scenery and costumes. The music fits each scene very well and doesn't fall into the trap of being too melodramatic.

The film like the play has a fine, compelling story that makes you feel all sorts of emotions, and the dialogue is wonderful. Branagh's directorial flair has a lot of vigour to it, and the Battle of Agincourt especially is very evocatively staged.

The performances are uniformly good, Branagh is particularly impressive in the title role and the supporting cast are all fine Derek Jacobi coming off best in yet another one of his great performances. Overall, very well crafted. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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Once seen never forgotten
scotty1220 February 2001
This film surely must be in the frame for a number of best ever categories - best Shakespeare film adaptation, one of the best ever war films AND one of the best ever performances by a male actor. It's truly stunning to see how Shakespeare's words, which seemed dull and difficult to understand at school, can be spoken as passages of such depth, beauty and power. Not one in a thousand actors could do this convincingly - but Kenneth Branagh can.

I think this far outshines the Olivier version from 1944 (very good though that was). Branagh convinces (where Olivier does not always) as he gives a wider range of emotional responses to Henry - self questioning, compassionate, sad at the harsh realities of life. You can really believe that here is a young man who used to be a playboy now faced with having to grow up and behave as a king of England. As others have said, he gives such fire and charisma to the battle speeches that you want to march straight into battle yourself! And importantly, Branagh also convinces utterly in the romantic wooing of the French princess.

Naturally enough, the film focuses on the main actor playing Henry, but the supporting actors are also excellent. Derek Jacobi, particularly, does wonderfully in a difficult role. If I had to give one very slight caveat however, it would be that Emma Thompson (who I love as an actress), does not quite convince as a native French speaker, though she makes a good try at speaking the language rapidly. Perhaps Juliette Binoche would have been better here? But overall the obvious rapport between Branagh and Thompson (who were married at the time) is more important than any slight problems with the accent.

The only Shakespeare performance that tops this movie is seeing Branagh give a live performance on stage - I was privileged to see him (with Emma Thompson) perform Much Ado About Nothing in the late 1980s, and that's still the best I've ever seen.

Don't just see this - buy or record a copy. If you see it once, you will most likely want to see it over and over! 10/10
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The Year Sir Olivier Died, King Henry V was Revived...
ElMaruecan8231 January 2021
Ever since its release in 1989, critics of "Henry V" felt the obligation to draw a comparaison with the classic 1944 adaptation of the war-driven Shakespearian play by Sir Laurence Olivier; the legend had died that same year and I suppose couldn't watch Kenneth Branagh's vision and compare it with his own as a sort of final full-circle life satisfecit.

I can see where reviewers are coming from from but then again, I feel the film deserves to be judged on its own standards and be at least compared with the original material. Besides, Olivier's film was released in 1944 when British morals asked for more boosting and the flamboyant play could clearly exploit the audiences' need for patriotic uprising to accompany Churchill's calls of collective efforts and sacrifices. Branagh didn't have such a context to sustain his film, he was simply a Shakespearian actor who understood the timeless appeal of the play and decided to direct it with his boiling and proud Irish soul emphasizing the war aspect and the impetuousness of the king, reacting with irreverence to French condescendance.

And what he came up with is simply a captivating and gripping war-movie with a special uses of lights and darkness to isolate the earlier moments with shades of solemnity. Roger Ebert complained that the bishops' part, handled by Olivier with a little comical approach, was too talkative and needlessly expositional in the film. Personally, I feel that Branagh wanted to point out that the sort of tacit pressure exercised on the fresh shoulders of the Prince creating a rather stressful situation, Henry V who was in his late twenties wasn't a reknown warmonger but if any war against France could be tainted with legitimacy (the famous Salic wars) he would at least consider it.

The real trigger is the provocation from the Dolphin and the infamous tennis balls destined to mock his inexperience; that moment is the first hint that Branagh had nothing to envy from Olivier and would make him rather proud: the small grin that draws in his face before he can finally decide to turn the provocation back to the French throne is one of the first acting punches he hits and the best is still to come. Branagh might have intended to make a character study out of the play, an indication of the ordeal being a king in war times is, with the whole self-questioning about worthiness of war, when you're left with the Cornelian choice between war and dishonor.

"Henry V" is a legitimate film and the only concession to the play is the chorus (Derek Jacobi) who reveals his modern clothes in the exterior parts. For all its realism, "Henry V" had to open with the iconic "muses of fire" tirade, it lacks the surprise effect of Olivier's film where stage slowly turns into a real background but Branagh opts for these lyrical interludes to keep in line with the play's spirit, a little concession to story before embracing history. The chorus is more a narrator than a ringmaster here.

So the film displays a VIP gallery of British actors: Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane as Falstaff, a young Christian Bale as the luggage-boy, Emma Thompson as Katherine, Maggie Smith and Paul Scofield who played the tired and worn-down Charles VI. They're all great but the one bravura performance comes from Branagh who delivers the first rousing speech culminating with "To the breach" during the siege of Harfleur. Branagh passes the test wonderfully and at that time never fails to convince us that he's not only the true heir of his royal ancestors but of Laurence Olivier. But while Olivier put them battles in broad daylight emphasizing the naturalness of the location, Branagh turns them into mud and rain with black and brownish tones that make blood make one with dirt... as you would expect from a modern film, the fights are realistic,

The deaths are as impressive as in the most efficient war-movies culminating with a seemingly Pyrrhic victory when the British soldiers triumph but out of despair, French had all squires and page boys killed. The film provides us the most heart-breaking moment with 'Non Nobis and Te Deum' song performed by Patrick Doyle while Henry is carrying young Bale on his back. The track shot is long and the look and pain in his face is genuine but the scene marks the film's own personality and Branagh seems like carrying a legacy of hundreds of year (counting the 1944 adaptation) and he does with such an attachment to his role that he deserved the acting nomination.

He also was nominated for Directing (like Olivier) but didn't win. It's ironic that Mel Gibson would win for a similar film but maybe Gibson had the benefit of 'freedom' (no pun intended) by distancing himself from a previously existing work so he could throw some picturesque quality in the fights and make them look new, if not original. Branagh had no care about poetry in his fight scenes, it's just chaotic, furious, fiery and maybe closest to what the battle would have looked for real. It's still a wonderful tour-de-force from Branagh who revives the film by understanding the value of the play as a war-movie precursor:, as I sad in my review of Olivier's play, it set many templates of the genre and Branagh knew how to transcend them.

The concluding little romance with Emma Thompson is perhaps the one flaw I could agree with Ebert who said the characters weren't so romantically developed to make that ending emotionally rewarding and maybe Branagh would have better left it, but maybe he knew this is a part of the play audiences expect and needed to end his film with something more uplifting, allowing him to display a more relaxed range of emotion.

All in all, this is a glorious superproduction and a wonderful consecration of Branagh as the Olivier of his times.... And I guess I'm also guilty of reviewing by comparaison.
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Delivered with class, passion and meaning that makes up for the limits of budget and a bit of a "tv" feel
bob the moo28 October 2007
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 to the historic battle of Agincourt with the troops and the king camping together and making progress across the land, with the French armies preparing for battle as King Henry and his men go from battle to camp to battle on the way to right the wrong of offence caused to England by France.

When I saw the slightly more famous version of this story from Lawrence Olivier I must admit that I liked it but struggled with simply it was delivered and how the focus was flag-waving. With Branagh's version I was amused by the fact that I got a lot more from it even though it was clearly made with a lot fewer resources to hand. The downside of this is that the film does not have the majesty and the sweep of the dialogue and scenes tend to be smaller and reliant on darkness. At times the cinematography looks drab and does seem like it belongs on the television rather than the cinema but, credit where it is due, the Agincourt battle is impressive regardless of the restrains on it.

Where the film is better than Olivier's is in the delivery of the language and the direction of the material. Branagh brings out so much more of interest in the material than just national pride. He brings more of the story with the sense of pride countered with the horror of war, the reality of the lower classes and such. The only things I thought he should have dropped were both scenes that involved Katherine, the first was a bit out of step with his vision of the rest of the story, while the final scene makes for a weaker ending than should have been.

The cast aids him greatly in bringing this approach out to its potential. Branagh himself leads the cast well and gets better as the film goes on and putting as much effort into the smaller moments as he does into the famous scenes. I thought Jacobi was excellent and really sold his narration and made the device of a modern chorus work well. The cast is deep in talent in every area, from characters with big parts to those with only a few moments on screen. Holm, Sessions, Blessed, Coltrane, Scofield, McEwan, Briers, Dench and others are all excellent and a young Christian Bale is good in a minor role.

Overall then, this may not be considered to be better than Olivier's version but to me it is, thanks to the greater interest it shows in the material. The cast respond well to this and the delivery is with a passion and meaning that makes up for the limits of budget and a bit of a "tv" feel.
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Straight Shakespeare Has Never Gone Done So Smooth.
jaredpahl9 February 2021
In America, and probably most of the Western world, we are all introduced to the works of William Shakespeare by force. For reasons unknown to us at the time, we're made to read (or follow along with) these ancient plays as some kind of obligatory checkmark in our school careers. Whether Shakespeare was taught to us by teachers who are passionate fans of the material or, more likely, dutiful nannies, it seems we have all started into the world of Shakespeare from the same point. We take for granted why Shakespeare is considered essential. It always begins, for all of us, as boring, incomprehensible Ye Olde English homework, and nothing more.

And then you see something that convinces you otherwise. For me, it was a field trip to the American Players Theatre for AP English class when I was 16. The play was The Taming of the Shrew. I couldn't tell you what the play was about, I couldn't name to you a single character from memory, but what I do remember is the excitement of watching actors take Shakespeare seriously. Even in a comedy, I could see passion in the performances. This wasn't 14-year-olds reciting "What light through yonder window breaks" in apathetic monotone, this was professionals who made Shakespeare's words sing, almost literally. It was an honest-to-God compelling show, and the first time I remember actually wanting to enjoy Shakespeare. I was with a crowd of people who seemed to get it. They laughed at the right times and they seemed to follow along with the story. If The Taming of the Shrew didn't spark in me a love for Shakespeare, it at least sparked a real interest.

But onto my main point; Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of Henry V is the type of thing to spark even more than an interest in Shakespeare for those who were like me. All that business I encountered 9 years ago, the taking it seriously, the passion, the elaborate staging and electricity of a crowd who loved Shakespeare; all those feelings are magnified in Henry V. Here is a movie, Branagh's first ever, that so confidently "gets" Shakespeare, that it ends up an unconditional triumph.

The major achievement of Henry V, the story of the young English King's valiant attempt to lead an outnumbered force into the Battle of Agincourt, is that word; 'unconditional'. Here we have Shakespeare's prose, his setting, his characters. The movie is without modern punch-ups or any attempts to orient us by re-figuring the story. Barring modern-set narration by Derek Jacobi, Henry V is Straight 'Speare. And somehow, there are no excuses you have to make for Henry V. You don't have to put on the qualifiers, "Shakespeare's language is tough to understand", "Knowing English history would make things clearer", "You need to know the context of the era". No, Branagh overcomes these obstacles with three huge elements: knowledge, passion and artistry.

Firstly, his understanding of Henry V does wonders. I've never seen or read the play, I don't know what I'm talking about, but still, I can see that Branagh the actor and Branagh the director believe in what they are saying and showing. Maybe it's just a trick of the performance, but when King Henry bellows out the St. Crispin's Day speech, and Patrick Doyle's music swells, it's an ecstatic moment. I don't need someone to explain to me what every word means because Branagh knows it for me. You follow his performance through the film almost like an emotional translator. That's the passion I mentioned. Kenneth Branagh is wildly excited to share his love for Shakespeare with the audience and the same goes for the supporting cast. The memo got to Emma Thompson, Ian Holm, Brian Blessed and the rest; "This is fun, this is exciting. Play it so."

Then, most importantly, there is Branagh's direction. This is no filmed stage play, and that's a shameful understatement. In fact, Henry V is a stunning piece of cinematic Cin-E-ma. Robust, bold, and gorgeously mounted, Henry V's visual style is in the same league as the very best historical epics. We're talking Braveheart-level artistry from Branagh, who opens the movie on a One Perfect Shot stunner and barely lets up until the final battle. And what a battle his Agincourt is. One does not expect this kind of scope, brutality, and muddy, bloody catharsis out of a Shakespeare adaptation. Doyle's aforementioned music is incredible, marrying so perfectly to the rousing action.

This Henry V is a Movie movie. Not a quiet and respectful "film adaptation" but an engrossing, stand-up-and-cheer prestige action adventure. That it does this with all the Shakespearian elements intact is its greatest feat. No need for samurai stand-ins or translated dialogue or a modern day setting, this is Shakespeare, straight-up, and it rocks! Seeing Kenneth Branagh's enthusiastic debut film is enough to make you rethink those old high school prejudices. How can a movie with so many 'wherefore's and 'thou's be so badass?

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Great performances by all the actors
catherine_ell6921 November 2002
The unique think about this film is that there aren't any weak performance amongst any of the actors, however small their role.

One actor I feels merits a mention is Christopher Ravenscroft for his portrayal of the French Herald, Mountjoy. He plays a key part in this ply as the only character who meets both English and French leaders until after the battle.

His shock and awe in the tennis balls scene when her realises that Henry isn't a silly young man is terrific.

Great film. I've got on video and watch two or three times a year. My teenage sons were gripped by it. This is the way to introduce teenagers to Shakespeare.

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Touch Of The Tyrant
bkoganbing28 February 2012
Some years ago I read a history of the 100 Years War and it was by a British author named Desmond Siward who advanced the notion that Henry V was one of the great tyrants in making of English history. Had it not been for his early death that's how he would have gone down in history. Thinking on it, imagine if you will how history might have regarded him had he lived another decade and had been in power for the British occupation of over half of France and had been the man in charge when Joan Of Arc was burned at the stake?

When Winston Churchill gave all aid and assistance he could to Laurence Olivier;s Henry V during World War II it was to show the glory of English arms at a high point in their history. Even if it was at the expense of France whom the British were now allies with. Olivier played Henry V in true heroic mold, but in this production of Henry V, Kenneth Branagh gives Henry V a touch of the tyrant as in current historiography.

This Henry V was not guided by wartime necessity, but could be closer to the truth. I did like the inclusions of those flashback scenes from Henry IV where we see merry Prince Hal cavorting with his low companions like Sir John Falstaff. Those might have been some invention of Shakespeare, but certainly the man who was Henry V was all business when he was on the throne.

This newer Henry V received several Oscar nominations including one for Kenneth Branagh to match the one that Laurence Olivier got over 40 years earlier for Best Actor. It's certainly a different Henry that Branagh gives us. You can hardly see a Prince Hal in this king.
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Impressive and exciting
HotToastyRag1 March 2021
I'll admit I wasn't exactly looking forward to watching the remake of Henry V. I managed to stay awake during the 1944 version, but I was bored to tears. How much Shakespeare can a person who doesn't like Shakespeare stand?

I guess I should have had a little more faith, since I adored Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. This movie actually captured my attention, while Branagh was speaking anyway. Everyone else seemed to be talking in a foreign language, but the lead actor (who also adapted the screenplay and made his directorial debut) brought his own subtitles along. While I won't be so disrespectful as to say, "Laurence who?" this is certainly an impressive feat. It's no wonder young Branagh was immediately catapulted to the Olivier pedestal and made it his mission to remake all the classics.

The beginning of the movie is very exciting and paid a little tribute to the 1944 version in its way. Remember the opening of the original that showed the audience gathering in the Globe Theatre before the play started? In this version, Derek Jacobi talks directly into the camera (he plays the chorus) and introduces the play while walking through an empty film set. During his final line, he opens up a door leading to the rest of the actors in Shakespeare Land.

A compliment might not mean anything coming from me, since I'm not a connoisseur. But for the fellow non-connoisseurs out there, if you want to watch a Shakespeare movie and actually understand what's going on, rent a Kenneth Branagh movie. Compared to hearing dry monologues on a stage with painted sets, watching an actual battle on a battlefield is very engrossing. I couldn't believe it was actually exciting to see him waving his sword, as his white horse reared up on his back legs, commanding, "Once more onto the breach!" And during his rousing St. Crispin's Day speech, he was actually rousing. Remember how boring the original was? Let's all forget about it and stick with 1989.
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more
freemantle_uk18 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier are two men that have often been compared to one another. Both are Shakespearian actors with a love for The Bard and both made their directional debut with an adaptation of Henry V.

In 1413 Henry V (Branagh) has ascended to the English throne. Worried that the King may take property from the Church The Bishop of Ely (Alec McCowen) and The Archbishop of Canterbury (Charles Kay) convince Henry V to claim the throne of France and go to war with their rival. The English storm through France, but with disease, fatigue and horrible weather Henry attempts to bring the army back to England, leading to the Battle of Agincourt.

Branagh's version of Henry V has often been compared to Olivier version, for good reason. Olivier takes a more stylised approach, his art direction was routed in Medieval Art and his film started as a play and slowly become more realistic. Branagh takes a more realistic approach, setting his film in castles, halls and muddy fields and he uses darker, more natural lighting as places are lit by candles. The 1944 film was made as to be a pro-war film to help morale the British public, whilst Branagh takes a much more anti-war view, showing the horrors and hardships of Medieval war.

Branagh gave a terrific performance as Henry V, someone with intensity behind him and quiet determination whilst still being able to deliver a speech. There is pain and doubt on his face as he sees the war at first hand, the death and destruction and even doubts about his mission. This is particularly the case during his monologue of self-doubt. Branagh is surrounded by talented actors, all giving excellent performances; the most surprising being Brian Blessed who is much calmer to his usual larger-than-life persona.

Branagh's direction has a Kubrickian edge to it, sharing camera angles and movements and a visual look, having similar lighting and sets. There are many moments where Branagh he allows a long take when more are debating or monologuing and zones in very slowly. There is a gorgeous four minute tracking shot showing the aftermath of the battle whilst a Latin song is playing in the background.

It was clear that the production was limited on the scope of the numbers of people it could, shooting very closely to mask this. But an advantage was that it show that the Battle of Agincourt was a very close, tough battle it really was as it was fought on a muddy, wet, narrow field. The 1989 version got the tactics right but the costumes wrong and the 1944 got the costumes right but the battle wrong.

The 1989 Henry V is a great adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most quotable plays. It is a great realisation of the play and one of Branagh's best films.
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An Unconverted Translation & Interpretation...
Xstal26 September 2020
I'm often amused by the ruling classes of these times and their belief in their genetic right to conquer overseas territories, using soldiers whose family history is as distant from their own, as the void between Shakespearian preachers and the unconverted.

Being an unconverted I find that history has been adjusted or important elements omitted, the translation from stage to screen leaves me wanting to watch it in a theatre and that interpretation and translation, or perhaps misinterpretation and mistranslation can lead to fascinating new perspectives or calamitous and catastrophic conclusions - in all walks of life, regardless of your lineage or aspirations.
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Powerful ode to St. Crispian's Day: 'We few, we happy few'...
roghache13 March 2006
While not much of an historical expert on Henry V and not having even personally read Shakespeare's play, I presume this film, from its appearance, to be quite a stellar adaptation. Battle movies, whether Shakespearean based or not, are not normally my favorite genre though this tale seems very well executed. I found the actual battle scenes quite long and graphic with plenty of mud, sweat, blood, and tears, even though it was doubtless exactly thus at Agincourt in 1415. The scene where the surviving soldiers from each side collect their dead from the battlefield for burial is a vivid depiction of the tragedy of war.

This Shakespearean play made for all time, whether accurately or not, a noble and just hero out of the historical figure Henry V (just as Shakespeare firmly established Richard III as a villain). From my amateur perspective, Kenneth Branagh gives a brilliant performance in all facets of the king's action, whether back in England dealing with political / military issues following an insult by the King of France, eventually at the end wooing the French princess (daughter of said French king), and most especially rallying his weary, demoralized troops at Agincourt.

Of course the English victory at the bloody Battle of Agincourt, despite superior numbers of French forces, is legendary. Henry's rallying St. Crispian's Day speech prior to the battle is, from my standpoint, a fitting example of Shakespeare's genius. I can still picture 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...', delivered by Branagh with such eloquence and intensity.

The scene in which Henry refuses to spare his friend, who has been caught stealing from the French church, is also dramatic and shows the king's efforts, undoubtedly painful to him, to remain impartial when disciplining his troops. This soldier was in fact Falstaff, whom I recall vividly as 'Prince Hal's' (later Henry V's) friend from the earlier play, Henry IV, Part I, which I DID read in school, so found the incident particularly touching.

However, for me the scenes of Henry hobnobbing incognito with his troops before the battle, his own conflicted emotions about his military decisions, and the subsequent rousing St. Crispian's speech are indeed the definite highlights in this memorable adaptation.
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Tour de Force portrayal of English King's "Tour de France"
As famous as Olivier's Henry V was, it was sorely outdated and as part of a war effort, it was predictably one-dimensional. Branagh's Henry V does more justice to the many facets of Shakespeare's words and reminds us of how good the Bard was at spinning a good yarn.

Some of the best English actors take their turn here. Scofield is in his element, playing a distracted French monarch. Ian Holm is an irascible (isn't he always?) Fluellen. Derek Jacobi is a master chorus (you can listen to that voice ALL day). Judi Dench is a soft hearted Nell who's seen better days. Branagh himself puts forward energetic vitality to the lead role. However, it IS rather difficult to look past the very English look Emma Thompson has in her portrayal of a French princess - but that's no fault of hers.

8 out of 10
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Branagh's reworking of the RSC production
didi-522 May 2005
Kenneth Branagh played Henry V at the RSC in 1984, with Adrian Noble directing. Clearly this was a watershed in his life as some of the ideas from that production transferred into his own film, five years later.

Branagh is a mud-spattered, ordinary Joe, a king who like nothing more than the blood and sweat of battle. No heroic 'St Crispian's Day' a la Olivier here. Taking Henry out of the confines of the play within a play (which tended to stagnate the 1944 film) was a good move.

This is definitely the best Shakespeare film to involve Branagh, standing head and shoulders above this bloated Hamlet, the crass Love's Labour's Lost, the trite Much Ado. In his cast are Derek Jacobi (a memorable Chorus), Emma Thompson (disappointing as the future Queen), Richard Briers (excellent as Bardolph), Ian Holm (reliable as Fluellen), and (inspired casting) Michael Williams as Williams.

A clever Henry V, then, with costumes for the period, but a relevance to the times. We might not engage in close combat any more, but this Henry gives a sense of the futility of war, not just its glories.
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Solid One
Tweetienator12 August 2021
Solid drama of maestro Shakespeare put into motion pictures and spiced up by some fine performance by (young) Kenneth Branagh and the rest of the cast. One of those movies of (it seems) long gone times, where Hollywood was not on its crusade of reeducation and destroying great storytelling material with unnecessary agenda changes but making great and entertaining movies. But still, there is the version of Laurence Olivier from 1944, that I like a little better.
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The summit (so far) of the art of filming Shakespeare, but...
tom_amity24 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
A creatively minded film student once checked out the videos for the Branagh and Olivier versions of this film, arranged a free public showing of the two in sequence, and billed the event as "A Comparison of Styles." Great fun. Twenty or so of us spent a whole Sunday afternoon-to-late-evening discussing and arguing the merits and demerits of both versions. I recommend the exercise for other Shakespeare fans and film fans. (Holms vs. Scofield as Lear, Zefferelli's Romeo & Juliet vs. the one with Caprio, etc. Try it; you'll like it).

Henry V has been read as English triumphalism so often that this bad-war era version was probably NECESSARY in order to show folks how subtle Shakespeare can be even when he seems to be tooting a patriotic horn! We are shown a very complicated (and very disturbed) king in three fine scenes in particular: (1) Henry slouching on his throne as he hears his ecclesiastical minions telling him what he wants to hear and feeding him the long-shot arguments that speciously justify his claim to the throne of France; (2) the subtle demonstration that his French obsession is partly a way of displacing his guilt about abandoning Falstaff; and (3) his maniacal behavior at Harfleur as he rides around waving his sword and making himself a perfect target with his surcoat decorated with the royal arms! Shakespeare makes it impossible to doubt Henry's courage and military genius, but he also appalls us: "My God," we think, "it's nuts like this who still rule the world and cause most of the problems thereof!"

I have a few bones to pick. Branagh is trying to keep the film from getting too long, and he is sometimes sloppy about what he cuts. Here are a pair of examples:

(1) The film movingly depicts a French atrocity, namely the killing the youngsters who guarded the English luggage ("Directly against the laws of war" as the lovable fussy legalist Fluellen puts it). But Shakespeare puts this in perspective by highlighting Henry's equally atrocious violation, when he orders the mass killing of French prisoners. BRANAGH IGNORES THAT, AND LEAVES OUT THE British ATROCITY WHILE INCLUDING THE FRENCH ONE! In the play as Shakespeare wrote it, Fluellen (displaying his unconquerable admiration for the king) has to force himself, in his "Alexander the Pig" scene, to rationalize Henry's atrocity as a response to the French atrocity which hadn't happened yet. The stickler Fluellen, in other words, is disingenuous with himself as the price of keeping Henry in the right. Ouch! But the ouch would actually have strengthened Branagh's interpretation.

(2) Branagh is gorgeous in his handling of the scene where Henry disguises himself as a common soldier in order to hobnob with his men, and loses his cool--throws a tantrum, in fact--while listening to soldier Williams' good and honest anti-war talk. But another sequence, without which the foregoing scene can really not be understood properly, is cut!!!! The scene in question, which isn't in the film, shows Henry revealing himself to the honest (or lippy?) Williams and demanding satisfaction for the latter's supposedly insubordinate and disloyal talk. Williams stands his ground like a man, and tells Henry respectfully but firmly that if he wants to be treated like a king he shouldn't disguise himself as a buck private. The King, thus put in the wrong in front of his officers (and shown the flip side of the thoughts he himself expressed in his "Upon the King!" soliloquy a few scenes earlier), cuts his losses, tells Fluellen to make up for the deception by giving Williams his (Henry's) glove filled with money, and hurriedly exits. Williams refuses the money along with Fluellen's patronizing b.s., and we are left to contemplate the fact that we have just seen an unpleasantly catty side of Henry. As in the other case, Branagh's cutting of one scene rather makes hash out of the other.

There is one scene where Branagh unnecessarily remains in Olivier's shadow. Branagh was quite aware that he couldn't speechify like Olivier (nor could anyone else, actually), and that he would therefore inevitably suffer if he tried to declaim the "Once more to the breach" Harfleur set piece, he somehow couldn't resist trying, which resulted in the only lame acting in the film. Branagh would have made more sense if he had just allowed the mounted, renzied Henry to shout himself hoarse, almost unheard over the noise of battle, while urging his men to this crazy suicide attack, and to eschew such stagey hamming as we end up seeing here (and nowhere else in the film).

Finally, a bow should be made toward the supporting cast (especially Holms, Blessed and Scofield), who are splendid. About Scofield: the history books say that Charles VI was subject to migraine headaches and fits of depression, and that due to the absolutist nature of the French state, the whole mechanism of government ground to a halt when the King was suffering in this way. Scofield's brilliant performance shows that there is no such thing as a minor role.

I don't know what one of the IMDb reviewers means by the complaint that Emma Thompson as Princess Katherine "looks too English." She's great in her "Le foutre et le con" scene.
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The best of The Bard
Fluke_Skywalker16 July 2015
'Henry V' is not my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, but it is my favorite film adaptation of a Shakespeare play. Henry's may not have been the noblest of causes, but you'd be hard pressed to feel it anything but righteous thanks to his stirring battlefield speeches and the clear-eyed moral certitude of Branagh's tour de force performance. The supporting cast is first rate, led by an Oscar-worth performance by Ian Holm, and Patrick Doyle delivers the first of his many wonderful scores.

If you have a teen who you'd like to introduce to The Bard, this is a perfect gateway.
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not just a great Shakespeare adaptation, a great war movie too
Quinoa19844 January 2009
This is such a rousing and dramatically charged picture for any director, but for a first-timer it's something else. Henry V announces its director's passion and masterful ability with his cast and in creating a style that is brutal and poetic like only a handful of others from the past 20 years. Tarantino might be one of them, or Aronofsky, but with Branaugh his appeal is that of using the language and music to be found in film language in order to keep Shakespeare strong. There may be one or two scenes to have to focus on if you're not prepared for the Bard's rapid-fire turns of phrases or delicate touches within a single sentence (or, for that matter, if you haven't simply read the play or even seen Olivier's version as I hadn't), but in general this *is* Shakespeare for an audience that would normally not go much near it.

It isn't entirely as "mainstream" as say Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet, but maybe it doesn't need to be all the way. Branaugh already has enough scenes here that make it as a true-blue war picture, complete with a sensational battle sequence, that all he needs is his who's who of British stage actors it aims at its particular audience- those who can't get enough of wonderful actors expounding and emoting full throttle or in thought provoking contemplation- like a shotgun at the moon. Paul Scoffield, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson, Christian Bale, they all make up great big chunks of the production as their own, even, as with Dench, for only so few minutes. They're also shot by Branaugh as director and his crew in a totally unglamorous manner; this is to Shakespeare what Braveheart is to kilts, it's gritty and full of pain and a drive for glory just in technical tone alone.

Granted, the picture may be most recommendable to those who are Shakespeare lovers and want to see something brought to the screen with faithfulness and a sense of interesting direction. Fair enough, since it's probably true. But for anyone just looking for a piece of historical dramatization it works some minor wonders: not every scene stands out as a masterpiece, but many do, and it's one of the best of 1989.
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Excellent adaptation of the Shakespeare classic
grantss22 November 2020
Excellent adaptation of the Shakespeare play. Retains the original dialogue but has a contemporary feel. Solid directorial debut by Kenneth Branagh. Pacing is spot-on and the movie flows beautifully.

Great performances all round. Kenneth Branagh does what he does best: play a Shakespearean hero. Good supporting cast.
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Kenneth Branagh's Henry V
Red-12519 March 2014
Henry V (1989) was adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh. And, naturally enough, Branagh stars as Henry V.

This is an excellent version of Shakespeare's most famous history play. Branagh is an extremely talented Shakespearean actor, and, as a director, he was given the financing he needed to make a film with superb production values. (The film won an Oscar for best costume design.)

Branagh's Henry V--unlike Sir Laurence Olivier's--is less about patriotism and more about leadership. Every monarchy fares better with a capable king, and Shakespeare wanted us to know that Henry V, after a misspent youth, had become a capable king.

Henry's leadership is demonstrated by his prowess in the war against France. The play is about the great English victory at Agincourt. However, unlike Olivier's Agincourt, this battle is portrayed as a bloody, muddy mess. Surely, this is the more historically accurate version.

The charming scene when Henry woos Princess Katherine de Valois (his wife Emma Thompson) comes off pretty well. Thompson was 30 at the time, so she didn't try to play the role as a blushing ingenue. She's a real princess, who realizes that she will have to marry Henry in any event, but who maintains her dignity by making him work for her consent.

Olivier dropped any scenes in which Henry might appear cruel, but Branagh keeps them in. Naturally, the hanging of Bardolph isn't shown onstage in a theater. But Branagh the movie director shows it to us in graphic detail. Henry agonizes as he watches the execution, but he lets it go forward.

Branagh is astute enough to know that audiences love to see stars in cameo roles. We get Derek Jacobi as Chorus, Ian Holm as Captain Fluellen, Christian Bale as Robin, Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly, and Paul Scofield as King Charles VI of France. Obviously, they can all master these roles without even trying, and they do.

We saw this movie on a "classroom-sized" large screen. It would work better in a theater. Something will be lost if you see it on DVD. However, if you love a great story, great acting, and great directing, you owe it to yourself to see this film. You won't be disappointed.
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