House of Plantagenet had a good run, but their dynasty would not last
forever. You can blame Richard II. His fall and the rise of his Lancaster
cousins provided ample inspiration for Shakespeare’s three king-four play cycle
known as the Henriad. Executive producer Sam Mendes and three of Britain’s
leading stage directors adapted the Richard and Henry plays for television as The Hollow Crown (promo here), which premieres
on PBS this Friday as part of the current season of Great Performances.
Richard II begins with the
title monarch on the throne, but that may soon change. Callous and erratic, Richard is a sad excuse
for king. Nonetheless, the nobility has maintained
their loyalty. Richard’s own actions
will drive many lords into rebellion, starting with the precipitous banishment
of Henry Bolingbroke. When the King
confiscates the estate of his late uncle, Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt,
he pushes the Earl of Northumberland and his associates into rebellious
bit of a slow starter, Richard II might
be the weakest link of the Crown. However, it exceeds viewer expectations for
one of the marquee Henriad highlights,
when Patrick Stewart knocks John of Gaunt’s “This England” soliloquy out of the
park. The stout Rory Kinnear and David
Morrissey also bring an appropriately Shakespearean physicality to Bolingbroke
and Northumberland, respectively.
Unfortunately, Ben Whishaw’s sickly, petulant presence poorly serves the
villainous Richard. Even more
problematic is Richard II director
Rupert Goold’s depiction of the deposed tyrant through Christ-like imagery.
is now Henry IV, but he plays more of a supporting role in the two plays that
bear his name: Henry IV Parts 1 and 2.
The King has an heir to succeed him, but has little confidence in the free-spirited
Prince Hal. The future Henry V would
rather carouse with the disreputable Sir John Falstaff than worry about affairs
Kinnear as Henry IV, Jeremy Irons gives one of his best performances in years,
acutely conveying the burdens of guilt, command, and fatherhood. Likewise, Tom Hiddleston relishes the
roguishness of Prince Hal, while also convincingly growing in stature once
Henry V ascends the throne. As director
of both parts of Henry IV, Richard
Eyre makes amends for misfiring with The
Other Man. He seems to love Falstaff
even more than Welles did, but Simon Russell Beale looks so haggard and dissipated
as the jolly fellow, viewers will fear he might keel over, well before his
character’s spirit is broken.
his wild past, Henry V turns his attention towards France in the Henriad’s conclusion, which should
particularly interest Francophiles because of the presence of Lambert Wilson as
the King of France and Mélanie Thierry as his daughter, Princess
Katherine. Hiddleston’s courtship scene
with Thierry has considerable charm, but Henry
V director Thea Sharrock strangely underplays the St. Crispin’s Day speech,
perhaps hoping to avoid comparison with Branagh’s rendition.
Shot on some notably picturesque locations, Hollow Crown opens up Shakespeare quite
cinematically. While there is a
considerable editorial hand at work, the language is never dumbed down. It is a smart way to present the Bard on
television, with discrete productions that still have the continuity of a mini-series. The all-star cast should be of particular
interest to fans of Downton Abbey (due to the too briefly seen Michelle Dockery and
Glen). It is a great looking
period piece, buttressed by a number of fine performances. Recommended for patrons of classical theater
and fans of British television, The
Hollow begins this Friday (9/20) and continues for the next three Fridays
on most PBS outlets nationwide.
Labels: Great Performances, Jeremy Irons, Lambert Wilson, Melanie Thierry, Patrick Stewart, Shakespeare, Tom Hiddleston