Shakespeare’s Henry IV part II

New Year’s Eve, so let’s lie on the sofa and go back to 1403, after the Battle of Shrewsbury. In this play we have the death of Henry IV, which didn’t actually happen until 1413, but who cares if we condense a decade into one play. Or perhaps I am just going back to when the play was written, probably sometime between 1596 and 1599. Even if we just go back to 2012 when “Hollow Crown” was produced as part of the BBC’s Olympic celebrations, I can’t help thinking that the world was a happier place eight years ago – even this miserable, non-sporty human being was caught up in the excitement of welcoming the world to London 2012.

I said I had done Henry IV part II for A level, but I can’t say I remembered it. We move from the fleshpots of Eastcheap to the Court (which, the extras tell me, was filmed in St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. We haven’t been there for 20 years or so, so it’s another place to visit in 2021). We also march through the wintry countryside (why is it always winter for Richard Eyre the director?) – it amazes me that a bunch of soldiers going down a narrow bridleway through the forest suddenly meet another bunch of soldiers going in the other direction because the narrow bridleway is obviously the A1. I’m sure medieval roads were better than that.

Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet returned, played by Julie Walters and Maxine Peake – there is a touching scene between Doll and Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). When he rolls off muttering “too old”, you feel for him. Indeed by the end of the play I felt very sad for him – “I know thee not, old man” is a very public rejection. Yet you also see him lying and cheating, and taking the life savings from Justice Shallow – he is not a nice man.

Henry (Jeremy Irons) is obviously a very ill man. He is a king who is still not at ease with his crown and the way he gained it. Prince Hal (Tom Hiddlestone) is fast becoming king – too fast at one point – and there is fascinating interplay between them.

The roles of the courtiers are not particularly large, though Geoffrey Palmer is an excellent Lord Chief Justice (we met him once at the Helmsdale Museum in northern Scotland – on another wonderful holiday).

The rebels have better parts – the Archbishop of York is one of those arrested (he is played by Nicholas Jones, one of those actors you recognise from lots of things).

Northumberland makes a brief appearance before he escapes to Scotland. His wife is played by Niamh Cusack, and Michelle Dockery makes a brief appearance (far too brief) again as the widowed daughter-in-law.

The writer of the Nottingham blog – – says this is a dull production. He says it lacks humour, and he could well be right. Even the scene when Shallow and Falstaff are recruiting soldiers has few laughs – despite their names and physical characteristics. Nor is there any humour when Hal and Poins spy on Falstaff and Doll.

The film is beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, and it will be fascinating to watch it on stage at some point. We’ve never seen it on stage, but have different versions on DVD. We’ll see how long lockdown goes on for.

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