TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry V

“The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum”

The fourth and final part of The Hollow Crown was Thea Sharrock’s televisual debut in directing Henry V, which carried over much of the same cast from the (disappointing for me) Henry IVs of the previous two weeks. The timing was not ideal for me to be honest, as I’ve seen the play in three different productions recently, and so normally I would have resisted the opportunity to see it again. But I needed to complete the set of these Shakespeare adaptations whilst I could still get them off the iPlayer before departing on holiday, and so once more unto the breach I stepped.

In some ways this was the type of production I’d been waiting for: a classical interpretation, but one which interpolated the melancholy, war-heavy themes that have marked the more modernised recent takes by Propeller and Theatre Delicatessen rather than the broadly comic and near-jingoistic approach currently at the Globe. From the off, it is clear that Sharrock is focusing on death as cinematic license permits Henry’s own funeral at the young age of 35 to be used as a framing device, lending an emotional resonance to the film which Hiddleston’s fast-maturing monarch plays against beautifully.

For me, Hiddleston has been a real revelation here across his three plays. His Henry has been different to what might have been expected, or wished for, but emerged with considerable presence and gravitas and a keen sense of his own humanity and frailties which I found immensely touching. But though the cast around him remained beautifully thesp-heavy, I didn’t find myself really thrilled by any of them in the way I wanted. Gwilym Lee’s soldier and Malcolm Sinclair’s Archbishop came closest, but Tom Brooke’s Nym and Richard Griffiths’ Burgundy underwhelmed. Julie Walters remained a big question mark in my head as Mistress Quickly, and though I liked hearing John Hurt as a much-reduced Chorus, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that the story was actually being narrated by the dragon from Merlin…

So again, a bit of a mixed bag for me. This Henry V had much to commend it to me, and had I been able to wait to watch it at a time when I wanted to see the play again and had more time to watch it too, I might well have enjoyed it more. As it was, it never quite managed to get over the fact that I’m a little Henry V’d out now. Still, it was a pleasure to be able to watch these 4 productions which have obviously had much care and attention paid to them and showcased both the BBC and the richness of our own theatrical ecology to fabulous effect.

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