Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Movie Review: The Hollow Crown

     Picture this to yourself: Patrick Stewart giving Shakespeare’s beautiful and haunting panegyric on England, that “sceptered isle”; an aged but stern Jeremy Irons astride a horse, gazing across the English landscape in silence; Tom Hiddleston in the heat of battle, shouting “Once more unto the breach!”
     Was that an undignified, high-pitched squee noise I heard? Don’t worry, that happened to me too.
     “The Hollow Crown” is a series of movie adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henriad, his four plays chronicling Henry Bolingbroke’s ascent to the throne and his son’s short but famous reign. The BBC did not scrimp on actors, and hired some of the best and most well-known in England. Along with the three mentioned above, they also have David Morrissey, Julie Walters, and John Hurt.
     These movies are amazing. The actors hit their lines perfectly, and the music lends it all a dark, tragic tone.  Richard II is both more horrible than I imagined when I read the play, and more sympathetic. His last moments mirror the picture of the crucified Christ he was painting throughout. Ben Whishaw (who, by the way, also made for an excellent Ariel in “The Tempest”) adds in these odd little head movements that highlight King Richard’s mental instability. In particular, the end scene where the king is demanded to give up the crown, he is in quite the state, one moment seriously about to hand it over, the other taunting a stoic, unmoving Bolingbroke to “Come here, cousin!” in a playful tone while holding out the crown.
     Most notable is the series’ depiction of Falstaff. Most plays highlight his more comical nature. But in these movies, they make a point of showing his desperation and dissipation. Hilarious as he is, he is still a drunkard who won’t pay his debts, makes promises he never keeps, and is shown to be fond of the young Hal, not as the future king, but as a future paycheck and a present diversion. As such he is a pathetic figure, and even when we mourn him we realize he brought it on himself.
     The last movie also does a good job of showing how Henry V, like all kings, must put on a mask when in the role as king. At the beginning, he is riding his horse hard over the fields; comes running in, out of breath, still Hal; then, comes in, puts on the crown, and suddenly we see a stern young king in his place. There is a moment where he sees one of his old companions hanging for robbing a church. He recalls the times they had together; then, announces that all who steal from churches must be treated the same. Tom Hiddleston does an amazing job with this kind of switch.
     Each movie is about an hour and a half long, and is certainly worth buying.
     On an entirely odd note, they have made the Duke of York black. It should be noted that the Duke of York’s death is reiterated several times in the play. Insert jokes about “the black guy dies first” here.


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