The final chapter of The Hollow Crown premieres this week on Great Performances (check your local listings) and concludes what has been quite an epic miniseries event. The saga of adaptations has traced England’s history through the eyes of Shakespeare's plays, from Richard II through Henry IV and the young life of Prince Hal, whose reign we now see unfold as he’s crowned the titular Henry V. In the film as in Shakespeare’s play, the story picks up where Henry IV, Part II left off: young and newly crowned, Henry takes the thrown of an England left in turmoil and unrest from its civil wars with the rebels. As he struggles to present himself to his subjects as a king despite his unruly and very public youth, Henry is also faced with the possibility of war against France. The events of the story eventually lead to the Battle of Agincourt and Henry’s marriage to Princess Katherine of France, a union which will join the two countries together upon the birth of their son.
Tom Hiddleston returns to his role, completing Hal’s evolution into King Henry in yet another tremendous performance. The transformative process of Henry’s life has been portrayed with profound depth from Hiddleston, and the last portion, his reign, has been evoked into life with great emotion under Thea Sharrock’s powerful direction. This adaptation seems to fully explore the character of Henry and the nature of his rule with a sort of modernized vigor that compliments Shakespeare’s original work while also presenting it in a way that feels completely new. The entirety of The Hollow Crown has, I think, felt like a very innovative and modern collection, and Henry V has a way of enforcing that spirit once again. This is the chapter that focuses most unflinchingly on Henry’s character, and I think it’s where Hiddleston gives his utmost and best performance of the collection; he seems completely submerged in the passions of the king, the conflicts as well as the commitments. While parts one and two of Henry IV featured many performances converging into its story, this is very strongly Henry’s own chapter.
That’s not to say that the additional performances by the supporting cast should be overlooked, of course. Returning (some briefly, but memorably) to their roles from the Henry IV films are Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly, Paul Ritter as Ancient Pistol, and Tom Georgeson as Bardolph. Meanwhile, new to the cast are Paterson Joseph as the Duke of York, Anton Lesser as Exeter, James Laurenson as Westmorland, Lambert Wilson as the King of France, Edward Akrout as the Dauphin, Melanie Thierry as Princess Katherine, and Geraldine Chaplin as Katherine's maid, Alice. Also adding wonderful personality to the story is John Hurt, who acts as a narrator between scenes (known as the Chorus in the play). He can always do so much with just his voice, which makes him the perfect source for the narrative’s dramatic dialogue. I also especially enjoyed Melanie Thierry's portrayal of Princess Katherine and her blundering attempts to learn English from her somewhat unqualified instructor, Alice. The two offered a sweet balance of warmth and wit to the melancholy nature of Henry's plight. The cast members all complement each other well. Their ability to both capture the era and handle Shakespeare’s language boosts the production into its impressive success.
With all of its unforgettable performances, its rich costuming and stunningly imagined direction, The Hollow Crown has been fascinating, enchanting, and great fun to watch. I hope everyone else who’s been tuning in for Great Performances over the past few weeks has enjoyed it as well – whether you’re comparing it to the plays or experiencing the stories for the first time, drawing on past experiences with Shakespeare or just discovering the vastness of his language. These are the sorts of adaptations that celebrate Shakespeare’s work by reinventing them and reminding us again of how powerful they are. I've enjoyed every moment of this miniseries and I absolutely look forward to reliving it again on DVD (which is already available through PBS and Amazon, etc.).
As ever, Henry V will air on Great Performances this Friday, October 11 at 9pm EST for many viewers. You can always find more information and check your local PBS station’s listings at PBS.org. Enjoy, and many thanks to all who've been reading my thoughts – if they've been a useful companion to the series I’m so very glad!
Photos © Nick Briggs