Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Hollow Crown: 'Henry IV Part I' - Review

I unfortunately missed 'Henry IV Part I' last Saturday but was able to catch up last night. This is the second part of Shakespeare's tetralogy about Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. The director for this play was Richard Eyre. Shakespeare wrote a superb play. In typical Shakespeare fashion, tragedy and comedy mix to create a play that has so much to offer. In tragic irony, the man King Henry IV wishes as a son leads a rebellion against him. The insults uttered by Falstaff and Hall and both hilarious and eloquent and none of the characters can be hated. Although at times historically incorrect, i.e. Hal faces Harry Hotspur in the final battle and they are of equal age, his changes add to the dramatic moment. Shakespeare makes a point and for the sake of drama, it did not matter in Elizabethan times and does not lessen the brilliance of the play now. 

Image for Henry IV - Part 1

'Richard II' was a very serious play mostly concerned with the rights of kings. 'Henry IV P.1' is a much lighter play since there is a very strong focus on comedy, mainly manifested in the character of Falstaff. An old fat man who is very fond of Prince Henry (Hall) and almost seems to have a paternal affection towards him. Yet he Richard Eyre takes care to always underline the fact that Hal will be king.  Perhaps my favourite moment, in which Simon Russel Beale as Fallstaf shone, is where Fallstaf's affection for Hall shines through when they impersonate respectively Hall (Fallstaf) and Henry IV (Hall). It is a truly touching moment, acted superbly, which changes the tone of their relationship and even succeeds to create suspense for the Part II, to be aired next Saturday. 

Whereas the last play focused on kings, this play focuses much more on the story of a father and a son. The former is disappointed in his son, who, in his eyes, fails to live up to the standard of a prince who is heir. Henry IV wishes that Harry Hotspur, who seems much more honorable and princely, was his son instead of Prince Harry. An alternative however, is also given to Prince Harry in the form of John Falstaff. The struggle between father and son seems very natural, yet extra gravitas is added by the context of the play. Henry's position on the throne is not secure and questioned by Harry Hotspur and the King feels that his son could not care less. It makes Henry IV a lonely figure who you almost pity. He is plagued by guilt about how he got to the throne and when faced with a plot, 

Again, the cast was stunning. This series is quickly turning into an assembly of Britain's finest actors. Simon Russel Beale has been called "the greatest stage actor of his generation" and he lights up the screen every time the camera locks upon him and achieves to make us both laugh and cry. Julie Walters was also very enjoyable as Mistress Quickly. For an hour, I kept on wondering who she was, until I finally recognized her. But perhaps the most important performance is Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal. Not only is he crucial in both Henry VI's but is central to Henry V. Together with Simon Russel Beale he is hilarious and has a roguish charm, together with an amazing Jeremy Irons, he seemed a lost boy. Joe Armstrong  as Harry Hotspur was a great enemy to the other two Henry's. He seems honorable, even if he is hotheaded, and he was able to not make me laugh with his accent.

In another interesting episode of  'Shakespeare Uncovered', Jeremy Irons explored not only Henry IV and his fears, but also Henry V and how he changes throughout the three plays. His exploration of the historical kings and his own thoughts on the mind of Henry IV are very interesting and not only explain the first play, but also prepares the viewer for the other two which are still to come. Also, to my shame, I have to admit I cannot seem to warm to Laurence Olivier. It is perhaps largely due to how Shakespeare was acted back in the day. It just seems a bit overacted and I much more appreciate the acting in 'The Hollow Crown'.

Did you see 'Henry IV' and did you enjoy it as much as I did?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Juli.
    I'm now following you from book blogs. (hence how I found you -from historical group). I love Henry IV but, having seen most of this new version so far, I still prefer my old video copy starring Kenneth Brannagh. Judi Dench plays Mistress Quickley in that one. However, it's great to see it aired on tv once more -hopefully it will inspire others as shakespeare is not exactly 'readily available' to many and many shy away because they fear his work is too difficult to interpret. I enjoyed your review also. It'll be great chatting over at book blogs sometime. All the best.