Review: Henry IV Parts 1 And 2Reviews
Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale are utterly spellbinding.
Please note that if you do not know your Shakespeare or your English history then there will be spoilers below.
Following on from last weekend’s triumphant screening of Richard II on BBC Two, we were fortunate enough to attend a screening of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 at the BFI Southbank. Having now seen all four films of Aunty Beeb’s ambitious retelling of four of Shakespeare’s historical plays – the Henriad tetralogy – on the big screen we pity those of you that will only see them in the living room for they make for truly beautiful cinema.
With Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Rupert Goold (Richard II) hands over the director’s reigns to Sir Richard Eyre, a man who knows exactly what to cut from the text and what is essential to leave in. He also has a knack for rearranging scene order for the sake of television, understanding the medium entirely.
Rory Kinnear has grown up to be Jeremy Irons (Henry IV). He’s also a bit of a grump, despairing at the behaviour of his flightly playboy son Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston). Hal you see would much rather be hanging out in the grimy bars of Cheapside with his cronies Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale) and Poins (David Dawson) than getting involved in matters of state.
When a rebellion against the King, led by the charismatic Hotspur (Joe Armstrong) comes to light, Hal must begin to face his responsibilities as heir to the throne and prove himself on the battlefield.
This is sexy Shakespeare with Eyre knowing a handsome chap when he sees one, making Hal a leather jacket sporting sexpot you likes a sauna (yes ladies, there's a scene in a sauna). He might be a bit of a soak (quite literally at one point as he’s covered in red wine) and if it were a modern tale he’d be that loud rugger bugger at the end of the bar, guffawing with his pals and ruining your evening but Eyre and Hiddleston make him a desirable devil, one that has our loyalties from the get go. The famously infectious Hiddleston laugh is in evidence throughout and Eyre wisely keeps the focus on Falstaff and Hal for the majority of Part 1, the rebellion of Hotspur taking something of a backseat so as to establish the characters of our drinking buddies and making the eventual dismissal by Hal of his former partner in crime all the more emotional come the close of Part 2. Russell Beale nabs all the best lines as Falstaff but it’s what goes unsaid behind his eyes that truly connects with the audience, it’s Hal’s love he craves above money and status and yet the old rascal is his own worst enemy and Russell Beale, looking uncannily like Billy Barty in Masters of The Universe, amps up the naughtiness and self-serving nature of Shakespeare’s most amusing character to a Spinal Tap 11. It's worth noting too that Hiddleston can muster up a seriously great Jeremy Irons impression. Part 1 is something of a merry jape for a good portion of its running time. Hiddleston’s Hal is good company indeed, his back and forth’s with Russell Beale’s lovable rogue Falstaff a delight to behold.
Joe Armstrong makes for a passionate and charismatic Harry Percy (Hotspur), rallying support for a rebellion against the King. His relationship with his wife Kate (Michelle Dockery) is a fiery one and their barely disguised mocking of Mortimer (Harry Lloyd) and his wet Welsh speaking wife is a joy.
Eyre does great things with relatively few extras for the battle scene, hand held jittery camera work effectively portraying the horrors of war but there is no denying that a TV budget can’t quite make up for a lack of physical bodies. No matter, so powerful are the words, so magnetic are the performances that this is nit-picking at its finest.
Henry IV is essentially about fathers and sons, about duty and honour above all else. It’s also about an ageing King’s conscience as he nears the end of his life, his guilt at how he came by his crown. Part 2 see’s Irons recite the famous line, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” with every emotion of his betrayal etched on his face. It’s a powerful moment and one that will linger particularly after the emotional conclusion to Richard II with the delicate Ben Whishaw as Richard breathing his last.
With a stellar cast filling out even the most minor of roles, Iain Glen bringing his particular brand of stoicism as the Earl of Warwick in Part 2 and the likes of Julie Walters, Maxine Peake and Geoffrey Palmer amongst many others cropping up, it’s a who’s who of the best Britain has to offer but the honours go to the brilliant Russell Beale and a truly impressive Hiddleston who steal every scene they’re in and light up the screen.
The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 can be seen on BBC Two on July 7th and 14th.
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Posted 12 hours ago
Posted 12 hours ago
Posted 12 hours ago