September 10, 2004

Henry V Blogging

Steve-O sometimes calls me Prince Hal to his Jack Falstaff here at Llamabutcher Central. I've always taken that very kindly.

Perhaps fittingly, the radio is currently running William Walton's Suite for Olivier's movie version of Henry V. As a rule I don't much like Walton's music, but I've always enjoyed this piece.

I have three specific favorites:

First is the Globe Theatre music. I suppose I like this because of its mock-Tudor style. I frequently whistle the fife melody heralding Henry's first entrance on to the stage.

Second is the charge of the French cavalry at the Battle of Agincourt. Walton's music perfectly captures the essense of the gathering wave, as the knights start from a walk and gradually build up to an all-out gallop. A truly spine-tingling sequence. (This, btw, is one of the weaknesses in Branagh's cut - not enough emphasis on the size and strength of the wall of metal and horseflesh bearing down on the English.)

Third is the Te Deum that accompanies the aftermath of the battle. This is another movement that gradually builds, gaining strength as it does so until it hits that climactic clash of cymbals and triumphant statement of the theme by the horns. To me it represents the weight and momentousness of the battle as a milepost in the course of history and also the sense of God's intervention in that course in that place and on that day. In this way, it backs up Olivier's panoramics of the carnage on the field and the long, annoymous line of soldiers marching towards the distant castle. Not to be persnickety about it, but this is another weak point in Branagh's version. His long walk with the boy in his arms, while moving, is self-centered, suggesting we should only view the day from the point of view of the individuals who fought there. Given this, it is rather odd that he should accompany the shot with a choral Te Deum. That is, unless he is being snide about Henry's stated belief that God fought on his side.

Mmmmm.....could be!

Posted by Robert at September 10, 2004 12:53 PM | TrackBack

I had never thought of the potential snideness to Te Deum and the shot of Branagh's Henry and the boy. I see your point, but I always thought of it as being symbolic of God's deliverance of the English in the fact of overwhelming odds. Yes, Henry lost some men, but he was delivered a great victory.

Of course, I think you need to look at the Oliver film and the Branagh film differently. Churchill once said that Oliver's treatment of Henry V was one of the best peices of propaganda produced during the war. It was even flown out to front-line troops to boost morale in 1944. Branagh's peice can be viewed in the late 20th century mode of showing all war as hell.

Posted by: The Maximum Leader at September 12, 2004 08:33 PM

Oh, absolutely. And Olivier cut out a great deal that might tarnish the propoganda value of the piece - Bardolf's hanging, the treason plot, Henry's threat before Calais. No doubt about it that each film is tailored towards different ends. My only point in getting in to all of that was that I don't much care for Branagh's all-war-is-hell take. The only thing missing from his Agincourt scenes to make it complete was the sound of helicopters in the mist.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at September 13, 2004 08:02 AM
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