Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Henry VI, Part 1 (Dominic Cooke, 2016)

"A day will come when York shall claim his own..."

It's been four years, but the BBC have finally got around to doing Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses plays under their The Hollow Crown imprint. Strictly speaking this isn't Henry VI, Part 1: we end the much-truncated production about halfway through Part 2. But it's a welcome attempt at some rarely-filmed plays and the cast, including those listed below, includes Philip Glenister, David Troughton and Michael Gambon.

Like its Hollow Crown predecessors, this is a straightforward retelling with 15th century costume and no directorial flourishes. That means it's all reliant on the acting, and the acting is superb. This is a play from a very young Shakespeare- one of his early hits- and isn't well known, also being somewhat lacking in famous lines, much as Shakespeare's dialogue is never less than sublime, even in his youth. There aren't, as far as I'm aware, any film versions to compare this to, so in spite of being good rather than great it's sort of the best by default.

We begin with huge vistas of Dover's white cliffs; this tries to be as visual as possible, in the Hollow Crown house style. But it's all about the performances. I haven't seen this play before, truncated or not, but I much enjoyed it, raising perhaps an eyebrow at just how wet the King is, how women are just chattels in this world, the very derogatory portrayal of Joan of Arc, but most of all, as ever with Shakespeare, getting drunk in the language.

The production is merely good; the play (or play and a half) is sublime.

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