June 13, 2007

Gratuitous Llama Netflix Movie Review

Henry V.jpg

Henry V (1979).

No, it's neither Olivier's WWII rah-rah, nor Branagh's later Dien Bien Harfleur. Instead, this was one of a series of videotapes produced by the Beeb of all of Shakespeare's plays back in the late 70's. (I remember watching them on PBS in my yoot.)

Nonetheless, if you have any interest in Shakespeare, I'd heartily recommend checking this production out. As with much of the other material coming out of the UK at the time, the piece is characterized by overall solid acting from people you've never heard of (with the exception of Julian "He Chose Poorly" Glover as the Constable of France) and with less than steller production values. (This is a filmed stage production, not a movified version. So no musical tracks, lavish sets or legions of extras. It was directed by David Giles, who directed I, Claudius about the same time.)

David Gwillim makes a really terrific King Harry. The story goes that he played Prince Hal in a production of Henry IV just before this, so really was able to master the subtleties of Hal's growth and change critical to the character. He is, in turn, commanding, rueful, playful and calculating (and is evidently still struggling to find the right balance among them). And while his "Once more unto the breach" and St. Crispian speeches are a bit flat, his treatment of the Dauphin's tennis ball snub is better than either Olivier's or Branagh's. Also, his arrest of the three traitors is a good deal more nuanced than Branagh's, and I really liked his sudden realization that Nemesis might be on his heals in his "Not today, O Lord, not today!" line before the battle.

None of the other characters really stood out for me (although I should give some credit to Jocelyne Bouisseau as Katherine), and a few of them (most notably, Alec McCowen as the Chorus, Thorley Walters as Charles VI and Clifford Parrish as Exeter) were downright flat. But they were, most of them, competent to good, and overall solid. Probably the safest thing to say is that none of them got in the way, if that makes sense.

As for the production itself, like I say, this was a stage version put on tape. So don't go looking for any big battle scene fireworks, because you won't find them. On the other hand, there is an intimacy here missing from a genuine movie version. As for "interpretation", this is a straight-up, straight-forward treatment. No underlying messages or directorial motivations here.

Also, I should note that very, very little of the original script was cut (I only noticed a bit chopped out of the Archbishop's speech on Henry's right to the French crown and some lines of Henry's telling the governor of Harfleur what he'd do if the French didn't open the gates). Obviously, the more you hear from and about Henry, the more complex and deeper his character becomes.

In short, if you want "real" Shakespeare in your DVD player, you should definitely give this one a try.

Robbo's Recommendation: Five Yips! out of five.

Posted by Robert at June 13, 2007 01:23 PM | TrackBack

I must have seen this when it first came on PBS, but I just can't remember it after all these years. I notice it was made in 1979 - the last good year for the BBC's Shakespeare series, because in 1980 the insufferable poseur Jonathan Miller took over directing and producing the series, and there's nothing worth watching after that.

Posted by: Dr. Mabuse at June 14, 2007 10:28 AM