Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Henry VI, Part 2 (Dominic Cooke, 2016)

"O tiget's heart wrapped in a woman's hide!"

The cast also includes Stanley Townsend, Sam Troughton and Jason Watkins and is a superb assemblage of actors not all of whom, alas, can be tagged. This is a superb array of performances.

Anyway, the BBC continue their Season of Shakespeare's Henry VI plays plus Richard III under the Hollow Crown imprimatur, and it's awesome. Here, despite the title, we have the very end of Part 2 and all of Part 3, much abridged. I've seen and read a lot of Shakespeare but these television plays are my first experience of the Henry VI plays.

These plays are early; Shakespeare was much younger when writing them than he was for his more acclaimed plays, so the theme of kingship is not dealt with in the subtlety of the plays he would later write for the decades prior to Henry VI's accession. The dialogue and characterisation are sublime, though; Queen Margaret is delicious, and it's so fascinating to see the young Richard of Gloucester, slowly forming into the Machiavel he will eventually become. Benedict Cumberbatch stands out, obviously, but Sophie Okonedo gives the most memorable performance as z superb Margaret, and Stankey Townsend's Warwick deserves mention too, as does Adrian Dunbar's Richard of York.

It's a gloriously bloody play, with Richard of York's sadistic dispatching at Margaret's hands as its centrepiece. Henry, again, is shown to be a peaceful, harmless wet blanket- something which, for a King, paradoxically engenders civil war, death and untold misery, as Henry sees at his defeat by Edward IV, with father killing son and vice versa. No wonder he goes mad. And in allowing his armies to be commanded by a woman ("The Queen has more success when you are absent"), he fails at what a King was expected to do.

It's a superb production of a gripping play, one I'm glad I've seen. And the end- with Richard plotting his own way to the throne- makes me excited for the next instalment, one much more familiar...

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