Shakespeare’s Henry V

As we’ve watched the last three plays in the BBC’s Hollow Crown series of 2012, it makes sense to do the same here – and it is good that the main characters are played by the same actors as before. This was directed by Thea Sharrock – she had had a lot of theatre experience, though this seems to have been the only thing she did for television. In the bonus film she talks about taking Tom Hiddlestone for a run and making him do the speeches as they ran – when she couldn’t hear him, she made him do it again.

Hiddlestone is an excellent King – and I enjoyed his rendition of the St Crispin’s Day speech. A few years ago St Crispin’s day (25 October) fell on a Sunday, so we slotted hymn 410 “Creator of the earth and skies” in to the morning service. It is sung to the tune “Agincourt (Deo Gracias)”, an English fifteenth century melody – which is also the tune that William Walton weaves into his “Agincourt song” from the 1944 Olivier version.

Olivier’s is the version I have watched most, always with the understanding that it was filmed towards the end of the Second World War when Britain stood alone. It seems very dated, but the performances, and William Walton’s music, are wonderful. We won’t make any comment about how performances of “Henry V” have influenced our relationship with Europe – in the week when we were dragged out of Europe, and the Prime Minister’s father has applied for French citizenship!

We saw Kenneth Branagh’s performance at the Barbican in 1985, in the version produced by Adrian Noble for the RSC. I had forgotten it was “post-Falklands”, so another interpretation informed by a war – Branagh’s film gives him a bigger role than Tom Hiddlestone seems to have, but I haven’t seen that film for a few years. Patrick Doyle’s music for that film is special as well – we sang “Non Nobis Domine” with the Bailiffgate Singers in Alnwick and it has a great tenor part – I think I saw Terry Hands production for the RSC in the late 1970s, I remember one school trip to Stratford – but Julie doesn’t remember going to see that. More information about that performance at There is so much to read about each play at their website – perhaps I can retire early and do more research.

Anyway, back to “Hollow Crown”. John Hurt is the chorus. He makes a visual appearance at the end when they explain that Henry died quite soon after he had married Kate. I checked, Agincourt was 1415, but he didn’t marry Catherine of Valois until 1420. In this production she is played by Melanie Thierry – rather lovely – but the French scenes are not as amusing as I have sometimes seen them played. Indeed, there are not many laughs anywhere – I seem to remember lots of dialogue about leeks in other productions.

There isn’t much about the death of Falstaff and the scenes in Eastcheap have been shortened. Julie Walters gets a few minutes of screne time. The hanging of Bardolph after he steals from a church is over quite quickly, and they don’t spend much time on Henry’s reaction to the execution of one of his friends. They don’t spend much time on the reason for the execution of the French prisoners either – and they change the reason why it happens. Rather a lot of messing around with Mr Shakespeare.

Henry’s “Band of brothers” speech is addressed to the nobles around him, rather than being a rallying cry for the whole of the English army. It is still very powerful. “Once more into the breach” inspires the men at the earlier action.

It was an enjoyable film, but I would like to watch a straightforward (i.e. sticking to what the Bard wrote) stage play at some point. Having said that, “The Hollow Crown” has been an enjoyable four evenings.

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