'The Hollow Crown' consisted of seven adaptations and two seasons. Season 1 (the Henriad tetralogy) featuring 'Richard II', both parts of 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V', and Season 2 (War of the Roses) 'Henry VI' parts 1 and 2 and 'Richard III'. Both seasons are well worth seeing, the former actually being a must-watch, and the series is fascinating for seeing filmed productions of Shakespeare's historical plays and on the most part very high quality ones too.
It really is a great way to get acquainted with the plays, to see how Shakespeare can be performed well and seeing the lesser known ones (ie. 'Henry VI'). In case anybody's interested too, the late 70s-early 80s BBC Television Shakespeare series, that also features all the historical plays, is worth a view. The visual quality and production values are lower but they are faithfully done, interesting, tasteful and on the most part well acted, though do prefer all 'The Hollow Crown's' versions of the plays over those in that series. Of the two seasons, Season 1 for me comes off better but there is a huge amount to admire about both seasons and all the productions.
Not everything in 'The Hollow Crown' to me worked. The St Crispins Day speech in 'Henry V' (my least favourite of the first season but still very good, 'Richard II' and both parts of 'Henry IV', especially Part 2, were outstanding though), one of Shakespeare's most powerful moments, was too anaemic and restrained when it should rouse. Some of the battles came over as under-populated and needed more intensity.
'Henry VI', both parts, is not going to appeal to all. Especially those that prefer their performances complete, as both parts are very truncated and it does at times affect the pacing and story (a bit rushed and jumpy in spots), and are not too fond of the uncompromising approach in Shakespeare. Actually liked that both parts pulled no punches and had a dark bold approach that mostly did not jar, with some powerfully brutal moments like Joan's exit but this approach was taken too far at times especially with Margaret. Just in case anybody is wondering, did like both parts on the most part very much especially Part 2 ('Richard III' though is for me by far the standout production of Season 2 and the best since 'Henry IV Part 2').
All seven productions are very well made. A lot of effort put into making the costumes and settings as evocative and detailed as possible, neither being too stark or too elaborate. The photography is often cinematic-like, expansive in places without being overblown and intimate in other places without being restricted. The music also achieves that balance, didn't find it over-scored.
Shakespeare's text, regardless of whether it's complete or truncated (the latter being the case with 'Henry VI'), has a lot of impact, most of the speeches sear with the one big exception being the St Crispins Day speech. Any comedy being genuinely funny with great comic timing (like with Falstaff, and it is not overdone or annoying) and the dramatic/tragic moments are powerful and moving. The series is directed in a way that doesn't come over as over-theatrical or static, much of it is tasteful and it doesn't feel too much of a filmed play. There is some great character interaction, like between Falstaff and Hal, Henry and Richard in 'Richard II' and Henry's dressing down of Hal (some tense stuff that).
Cannot say anything wrong with the performances. Standouts being Ben Whishaw's complex Richard II, Patrick Stewart's sincere Gaunt, Rory Kinnear's understated Henry, Jeremy Irons' anguished Henry IV (in a recent years role that shows how great an actor he is), Simon Russell Beale who was born for Falstaff, Tom Hiddleston's charismatic Hal/Henry V (prefer him as Hal), Melanie Thierry's touching Katherine, Sophie Okonedo's ruthless Margaret (am aware not everybody liked her casting though), Hugh Bonneville's nuanced Gloucester and Benedict Cumberbatch's machiavellian Richard III.
In a nutshell, an extremely good series and often fabulous with a few disappointments. 8/10
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