TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did).

Highlights come with Sophie Okonedo’s Margaret’s seamless transition into fearsome warrior queen, Kyle Soller’s too-brief sojourn as an impassioned Clifford and in one of the more dramatically satisfying character arcs, Stanley Townsend’s beautifully spoken Warwick and his belated realisation of the mess he’s helped to create. And the wordless appearances of those from whom much more is to come – Ben Daniels’ Buckingham, Al Weaver’s Rivers, the excellent Phoebe Fox’s Lady Anne – is promising for the next and final part. 

But there was no Måns moment (even if the three suns were effectively done), no standout scene that made me want to recommend this to anyone. As those sons, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Sam Troughton and Benadryl Cortisone were just a bit dull, and wasting Andrew Scott and Mariah Gale in a brief French court scene felt profligate rather than luxury casting. 

It will be interesting to see where Crumplehorn takes his dastardly Dick in the forthcoming Richard III but given the maniacal splendour of Hans Kesting’s recent portrayal, he’s got a hell of a lot to live up to. And I increasingly long for a theatre to take the radical decision to stage the Henry VI plays pretty much as they are (I really should have gone to the Globe!) to let audiences have a rare chance to see them as intended.

Photo: Robert Viglasky/BBC

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