sat 13/07/2024

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 1, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 1, BBC Two

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 1, BBC Two

The second instalment of the BBC's celluloid Shakespeare is fit for the cinema

The man who would be king: Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal

Now we're talking! Following on from a small-screen Richard II of greater aural than visual interest, along comes Richard Eyre's TV adaptation of both Henry IV plays, and the first thing that seems evident about Part One is how well it would hold up in the cinema.

(Indeed, I saw it in just such a setting at a preview screening with the director in attendance.) Lustrously shot in all manner of rusts, ochres, and browns that can drain away where needed, primarily during the battle scenes, Eyre's diptych in its first half makes a ravishing case for Shakespeare on film even as it whets the appetite for Part Two, with the same cast, which will be shown next week.  

Jeremy Irons as the ageing kingAs with Rupert Goold's Richard II, the Henry IV ensemble constitutes a veritable thespian who's who, many of whom one can imagine returning to these same parts on stage, Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff most especially. (One wonders whether Jeremy Irons, pictured right and on tremendous form as an ageing King Henry here shown to be unusually prone to violence, would accept what is essentially a supporting role in the theatre.) The material, of course, is televisual catnip, shifting from the muddy Cheapside streets of the ale house to the corridors of power walked by Irons's stern-faced, ever-admonitory monarch. But in collaboration with a cameraman in Ben Smithard (My Week With Marilyn) doing career-best work, Eyre allies the verbal landscape of the play to a painterly study in love and loss moving inexorably onward to life and death: when Falstaff and Hal (Tom Hiddleston) play-act the banishment that will go on to be enacted for real, Eyre's probing lens amplifies the eerie sense of foreboding that exists in the text.

It's the great good luck of the British theatre to offer up so many young actors who can readily navigate the demands of film, as well: Ben Whishaw proved as much last week, playing the self-poeticising yet doomed Richard, and Hiddleston turns out to be to the stature and manners born as this film's Henry V-in-waiting. His innate charisma aptly suited to the role of the "King's son" that the Hal of Part One has to be reminded he is, Hiddleston possesses an unshowy glamour that can be playful or not, as required. One smiles with him as he looks on fondly at Russell Beale's bulbous-nosed Falstaff, even as one is equally aware that such camaraderie cannot last.

Simon Russell Beale as FalstaffA longtime regular of the National Theatre that Eyre used to run, the emotionally and physically capacious actor (pictured left) lets slip the occasional trademark gesture, though not as many as Julie Walters, who can't entirely submit her own persona to the earthy requirements of Mistress Quickly. But where Russell Beale really scores is with the occasional sad-eyed glance indicating an awareness that Falstaff's game may one day be up, and that so flouncy and extravagant a figure is equally marked out by a capacity for cowardice and the craven. (At the genial Q&A after the screening, the creatives were quick to deride most of the principals in the play as "shits".) 

Fusing the intimate easefully with the epic, Eyre doesn't stint on battle scenes that have a savage fury, Hiddleston's physically imposing Hal paired off against the smaller, beadier Hotspur of Joe Armstrong, here appearing alongside his actor-father, Alun. And as the colours fade to black and white, a play famous for containing the life force that is Falstaff reveals its equally convulsive acquaintanceship with death. Bring on Part Two. 


Not a fan of Jeremy Irons but what a masterpiece of acting he gave I thought Beale was possibly the worst Falstaff I've ever seen if you don't believe me look at 'Chimes at Mid-night.' Bardoff was excellent.

I have just watched the advertisment for the hollow crown and I must say it looks quite impressive up to the point of the siege of harfleur and the immortal words for 'harry, england and saint george'. it was at this point I noticed a black actor playing the role of the english knight! BBC...dragging historical accuracy through the mud again! Its NOT racist to say that there were no black people fighting in english armies during the 100 years war! that's a historical fact. Once again this is an affirmation of the bbc's terror of offending a minority at the cost of english culture and historical accuracy. You should be ashamed.

However, there were black entertainers in London at the time of Shakespeare. Golly gosh, Shakespeare even had female characters being played by boys. In fact this is a telling example of Bill Shakespeare living in terror of offending people "at the cost of english culture and historical accuracy". For goodness sake, the history plays are not accurate historical accounts. Really, "You should be ashamed".

I totally agree with you.

There were equally very few people over six feet tall fighting in the Hundred Years' War. And none with clean hair or good teeth. Did their ahistorical presence upset you as well?

I love that you're willing to suspend your disbelief far enough to accept a fifteenth-century king making an invented speech in Elizabethan English in perfect iambic pentameter as realistic, but the fact that one of the minor roles is (horrors!) played by a black actor completely blows your mind. Shakespeare himself embraced anachronism; it's a work of fiction, not a historical documentary.

I found Hiddleston to be very unconvincing. The gurning and excessive grinning he does in any role is getting tiresome. The supporting roles were much better acted. The low budget certainly showed.

I would agree with Roger about Falstaff. His lack of warmth and joy made Hal's loyalty hard to believe. I found the words hard to interpret for the first half-hour. For those of us who did not prefer the tennis could there not have been a subtitle announcing when it would be broadcast? I would hate to have missed it.

It's a shame to cavil at such great productions - but - Whishaw was wonderful, Irons and Hiddlestone were also fab. However Falstaff is meant to be really witty and engaging in his rogueish way. I thought while Simon Russell Beale caught the cunning and cravenness of Falstaff, he didn't capture his wit and humour. But it's only a minor quibble! Thoroughly enjoyed it all. And don't mention the tennis!

I am puzzled how you all got to see it? my recorded version on Saturday, contained Wimbledon. Too late I discovered it was repeated on BBC4 on SUNDAY night, Will it be on again before next week I wonder? If not I shall give up

The BBC stupidly ran live tennis (which they should have known could over-run) immediately before a high-profile programme. Then then stupidly ran the evening's schedule over an hour behind, thus ensuring everyone who does not spend their time glued to the television would miss at least part of what they wanted. They then stupidly changed the schedule the following day without warning, thus ensuring even more people missed their programme. Why could the programme simply not have been held over for a week? Or left it until they knew it wouldn't clash? But then, intelligent scheduling has never been the BBC's strong point. Maybe I'd be better off wirting until the library gets the DVDs - if they ever appear - or just download it from a well-known Swedish website.

Just what I wanted to say! So frustrating that they never consider the licence payers, whose money paid for the series in the first place. BBC REPEAT PLEASE (with Warning)

Simon Russell Beale was a big disappointment as Falstaff. He has one of the best voices in the business but for much of the time it was difficult to make out what he was saying. And why did all the other characters find Falstaff so funny? He came across as a tired, pathetic old man, which is fine for the end of Part 2, but he should surely have more vitality at the start of Part 1.

I agree with Roger - was really disappointed by Falstaff and thought Jeremy Irons was brilliant. Compared to the theatre productions featured in the Shakespeare Uncovered afterwards the tavern etc scenes were pretty humourless and couldnt for the life of me see what any prince would see as attractive in this depressing lowlife - or was that the point? was he really into self-degradation and punishment??? By contrast the Richard II was luminous and very moving with a lovely haunting performance by Ben Wishaw.

Falstaff was more like a less amusing version of Uncle Albert. Aftrer a while I began to groan whenever it cut to the scenes with him in it but it didn't stop this vesroin overall from being an absolute pleasure. Irons especially. He manages what other actors don't with some of Shakespeares parts and portrays someone who is truly contemplating the words before during and after they come from his lips.

This is something I wrote, earlier today at another site but applies here: "Then there some idiotic casting, how can anyone cast a black dude as “The Duke of York”? Five hundred years ago, as part of nobility! This is just colour blind casting with no reference to historical data and he only has a couple of sentences, it’s very minor but such a glaring stupidity. It’s an appeal to the minorities who might not be into the Bard. It’s the worst form of tokenism and of political correctness. Kids are going to get a pretty warped Orwellian impression of history. I expect that if the Beeb ever did a drama of the founding of the ‘Declaration of Independence’, they’d stick in some colour. Which pretty much makes a mockery of history. Now, I could be wrong here, but wikipedia says that ‘The Duke of York’ plays a major part in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’ and a minor one in ‘Henry V’ – so I’m assuming that David Suchet’s character is the same one as that portrayed by the black actor (had a look for the name on IMDB, but it hasn’t been entered yet), or at least the same family. If it’s the former, it’s a howler of the first magnitude and the director should be in Children’s TV, cleaning the floor or fetching the tea." ... Hal’s costuming has been deliberately de-periodised, so that he wears a cool leather jacket, that might be right for the new Dr. Who which tried avoid any show eccentricity, but is so cool and out of history, that a person could easily wear it to the local wine bar, club or even pub and no one would even bat an eyelid. It’s the same with all his costumes, as if youngsters and adults of all ages, seeing something in period, will turn over the channel. There is also an appeal to the women, here is the costume designer: “We looked at war films and thought about what it was like to be a soldier. We wanted to appeal to a war film audience, to contemporise it and strip out all the pageantry and pare things down.” “We made his armour out of rubber and he was sewn into things at times. It was precisely fitted so he could move and look sexy because he’s got an amazing physique.” “Also we very deliberately put everybody in leather trousers. Because they are in the rain we could wipe them clean so they only needed one pair. It gave them a masculinity and a sexuality and a warrior-likeness.” There’s something in those statements, underlying them, that’s ever so slightly shallow. Like a friend pretending to be interested in a topic being discussed by really oggling a woman’s rack, salivating over her tits. In that way, it’s remeniscent of Gene Roddenberry’s dressage of the female officers and guests of the Starship Enterprise, aimed at the lowest common dominator – the guy drinking a six pack of beer. Here, I think they are trying too hard to appeal to female demographic. Strangely, they filmed the last play first, so the Thea Sharrock seems to have had a huge say in the design of the costumes. So, overall – a valiant effort, some superb performances, vividly directed to give it a punch, yet let down by the last play – which is inferior and less dramatically less intense, less involving than both big screen classics. Overall, it’s been a real treat. At last, a bit of life in the BBC. Three out of four stars. Time to watch ‘An Age of Kings’ and the second part of the ‘The Devil’s Crown’.

This excellent series just concluded here in the States. Irons and Hiddleston were outstanding! Beale? He rivaled Rupert Everett's Oberon, for nomination of the "Best Mumbler in a play by Shakespeare." Beale went for quiet subtlety; it didn't work for me. As for Paterson Joseph's Duke of York, I must say, that being Black myself it was disconcerting. However, bully for him for getting the part in the first place.

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