Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Henry V (1989)

"I'm afeared there are few die well that die in battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument?"

This is the second screen adaptation of this play that I've seen and blogged after The Hollow Crown, albeit one made twenty-three years earlier, and the differences are stark from the opening scene, where Derek Jacobi's chorus awakens us by lighting a match. This introduces two themes: this production's constant okay with light and it's claustrophobic feeling, indoors and on small sets as much as possible and with the location scenes shot so as not to look expansive. Hal finds the crown as uneasy as did his father is the clear message, and his guilt over being an usurper's son, paralleled by his anxiety over the war being just (because sending people to their deaths and their bereaved dependants into penury because of who should be King is totally just, right?) is reflected in the visuals.

Kenneth Branagh is a suitably angsty Henry. Yes, the speeches are present and correct, but this is not a jingoistic Henry V but an anxious one.

The rest of the cast excellent too, including a surprisingly unshouty Brian Blessed, whose message to Charles VI reeks of a menace he hasn't exuded since he was Augustus in I, Clavdivs. And, on top of those mentioned in the tags, we didn't have room for Derek Jacobi, Robbie Coltrane as a splendid Falstaff in scenes nicked from the Henry IV's, Robert Stephens, Paul Scofield, Harold Innocent and a very young Christian Bale. I particularly enjoyed Ian Holm's Fluellen, discoursing on Pompey the Great- for Shakespeare, all Welshmen are in some way his old classics teacher!

This is a superbly visual production, superlatively acted and directed. The emphasis on sparse lighting, points of light in the darkness and claustrophobia gives us an individual version of the play from Kenneth Branagh that is highly effective. A fine film.

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