L.S.Media Rating ****

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Julie Walters, Tom Georgeson, Paul Ritter, John Hurt, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Freeman, Richard Griffiths, Paterson Joseph, James Laurenson, Anton Lesser, Malcolm Sinclair, Owen Teale, Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Edward Akrout, Tom Brooke, Jeremie Covillaut, Maxime Lefrancois, Stanley Weber, Gwilym Lee, Richard Clothier, Nigel Cooke, John Dagleish, George Sargeant.

The final instalment of the B.B.C’s Hollow Crown season begins at the end, framing Henry V with the death of its protagonist. Henry lies dead with his loved ones around him, as the Chorus transports the audience back in time, presenting the newly crowned king. Despite his youthful vigour, Henry has clearly shed his irresponsible ways and matured to cope with his new responsibilities. This adaptation does not focus on the brave heroics of the king, but rather reaches the heart of what it is to be a truly great leader.

Most notably, the two most famous speeches of the play are not delivered to the masses he leads to France, but more intimately to those nearest to him, addressing only a few individuals. This creates greater sincerity, presenting a king that is not governed by his passions or prone to great shows of theatricality. Instead, Henry remains largely composed throughout the play. Henry does not react to the Dauphin’s tennis ball taunt with rage, but responds in a soft voice, suggesting a king who is in control of his emotions. In contrast, the Dauphin’s anger when faced with the English messenger betrays his own immaturity.

The brutalities of war are shown, but any hint of glorification or patriotism is downplayed heavily. The adaptation concentrates sharply on Henry as a king, avoiding prolonged attention on the lowly characters and plots not essential to the play. The comic moments are subdued, adding to the seriousness and reality of war. The Welsh captain Fluellen taking great importance and pride in the discipline of the army is not mocked, but admired. Henry does not take the opportunity to play a harmless mischievous trick after victory either, taking it upon himself to present the glove of the solider he quarrelled with the previous night.

Despite the scenes of slaughtered bodies strewn across muddy fields, once the battle has ended, Henry, although thankful, does not take any glory from the victory. The action moves on swiftly to Henry wooing Katherine, in search of a resolution to prolong the peace. While the cruel murder of Falstaff’s boy does not occur, he does witness murder up close, symbolising the loss of innocence that war incites. This epitomises the message of kingship at the heart of this adaptation; Henry V’s story is not of the underdog’s victory, but rather a journey from rebellious youth to responsible maturity.

Picture from the B.B.C.