This week The Hollow Crown continues on Great Performances (Friday, 9pm on PBS) with its second chapter, adapting Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I. Taking place years after Henry Bolingbroke deposed Richard II and claimed the crown, the story now follows King Henry’s turbulent reign as he must struggle against a rebellious uprising and his own disappointment with his son, Prince Hal, who notoriously behaves more as a drinker and debaucher than as a future king of England. Fueling the rebellion are the Percys: the Earl of Northumberland, his brother the Earl of Worcester, and Northumberland's warrior son, Hotspur. Considered a ruthless soldier with a fiery determination, the King wishes that Hotspur was his own son rather than the unsuccessful Hal. But Prince Hal is more valiant and self-aware than even the King can imagine, and as he is given high command of the King’s army against the rebels – aided by his friend, the perpetually drunk Sir John Falstaff – Hal vows to meet Hotspur and defend his title, his honor, and his place in his father’s esteem.
Directed by Richard Eyre, the production boasts as impressive a cast as The Hollow Crown's first chapter, this time with Jeremy Irons playing an older Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal, Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff, Joe Armstrong as Hotspur, and terrific supporting performances by Alun Armstrong, Michelle Dockery, Julie Walters, David Dawson, David Hayman, and Maxine Peake. Eyre’s direction illustrates a gritty aesthetic that perfectly contrasts with the more lavish Richard II, taking the viewer into an intense and profound depiction of the story’s history. The sense of authenticity and the accuracy of historical detail are etched into the production further by the cast’s wonderful ability with character interpretation. From Jeremy Irons’s powerful and imposing portrayal of Henry IV to the nuances of Julie Walters as inn-keeper Mistress Quickly, each performance offers something unique and contributes to what is ultimately a deeply satisfying film.
I enjoyed the relentless energy with which Joe Armstrong played Hotspur, and Simon Russell Beale plays Falstaff with humor and heart-touching sincerity. Michelle Dockery is genuinely exciting to watch, fierce and impressive as Lady Percy. Amid all of these performances, Tom Hiddleston is perhaps the most captivating as Prince Hal. He handles Shakespeare’s language with a natural grace and sprightliness, delivering the depth of Hal’s emotional complexity to a rapt audience. His charismatic verve and clear connection to the role results in the sort of performance that transcends the dimensions of the written play, the sort that can make Shakespeare's work so exciting to watch unfold.
From its truly great performances to the finite details of its direction, costuming, and superb make-up, Part I of Henry IV is an emotionally gripping and evocative interpretation of Shakespeare’s work, and a terrific success.
You can catch Henry IV, Part I on Great Performances this Friday, September 27 at 9pm on your local PBS station. For more information and to check your local listings, visit PBS.org.
Photos © Joss Barratt