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. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry V”

TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”

Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre

With Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw took the well-known story of Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl eventually sainted, who led the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years War and was repaid for her trouble by being declared a witch and burnt at the stake since she believed that she was being guided by the voice of God in her head, and created an all-too-human story filling in the gaps in the history with tales of conflicting institutions, personality clashes and a keen sense of humour of what her life must have been like.

The play is remarkably even-handed in that it presents all sides of the argument and never really comes down on the side of either Joan or her oppressors. There are no goodies and baddies here, just a girl who believes God is speaking to her and the machinery of Church and State who will do anything to ensure their power remains stable: Shaw’s message is that uncontrolled individualism threatens the established order and is rarely tolerated. Continue reading “Review: Saint Joan, National Theatre”