Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff. Picture courtesy of B.B.C.

L.S.Media Rating: ***

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale, Tom Hiddleston, Julie Walters, Alun Armstrong, David Dawson, Michelle Dockery, Tom Georgeson, James Laurenson, Maxine Peake, Ian Conningham, Henry Faber, Dominic Rowan, David Bamber, Niamh Cusack, Iain Glen, Nicholas Jones, Geoffrey Palmer, Paul Ritter, Adam Kotz, Pip Torrens, Tim McMullan, Will Attenborough, Pip Carter.

Continuing the B.B.C’s Hollow Crown adaptations, Henry IV, Part Two portrays the end of a frail king’s reign. With the battle of Shrewsbury won, the king faces further threat from rising rebellion movements. Henry IV grows wearier under the weight of his responsibility; filled with doubt at his wayward son’s ability to rule, worrying what will become of his nation once he passes away.

Upon receiving news of his father’s illness, Prince Hal too finds himself contemplating what his future holds. Finding it difficult to express his sorrow among his present company, he is also forced to accept he will soon have to put the lowly company he chooses to keep behind him, and bear the responsibility of wearing the crown.

The contrast between the two worlds Hal is torn between could not be more distinct, with brash and bawdy behaviour in common settings contrasting with the heaviness of courtly concerns. The king considers the burden of wearing the crown with a heavy heart battling his old age. When he takes a turn for the worse, it is evident he is no longer physically fit to be king as the crown falls fall his head to the ground. Mentally, he is still the ruler, and orders to be allowed to rest, with the crown placed on a pillow beside him. The vigour at which he jumps out of bed when he awakes to find his crown gone portrays his inner strength, and the seriousness with which he takes his responsibility as king.

Away from the burdens of the courtly setting, solace is not found with the merriment of the taverns. Falstaff was once the great comic character, but is too contemplating separation for his beloved Hal. His face drops at the realisation, a haunting image that breaks his armour of bravado. Interestingly, this adaptation ends with a lingering shot of Falstaff’s heartbroken face, a reminder of what the new king has sacrificed to fulfil his duty.

Some light relief is found in the otherwise serious play, with a tender exchange between Falstaff and his lover, Doll, and the emotional reconciliation of the king with his lost son. However, this bliss is short lived; as Henry IV places his crown on his heir’s head, he also collapses to his death. Hal, now King Henry V, has his new responsibilities bestowed upon him immediately. He steps up to the mark, and sheds his former identity with ease. In a scene where he cruelly rejects Falstaff, he looks past his distraught old friend without a hint of emotion upon his face.

The ease of Hal’s transformation shocks onlookers, and leaves audiences wondering which part of his character was sincere, and which was truly an act.

The Hollow Crown concludes with Henry V on Saturday.