Image via BBC
English student + January = exam season!
One of my modules has been about Shakespeare’s History plays – hence why I wrote a little review of The Hollow Crown’s Richard II. I wanted to discuss The Hollow Crown’s adaptations – directed by Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock – of the other plays I’m studying (Henry IV Part1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) and how I think these compare with the Shakespeare’s Globe productions, directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Does this count as revision?
This is a slightly different “film review”. It’s not meant to be an essay, but simply an exploration of some opinions I’ve had circling round my head.
I’ve watched each version a few times to reinforce my knowledge of the plots. It was also handy because I could see how different directors chose to emphasise or minimise certain themes within each of the plays.
I liked the filming of the Shakespeare’s Globe productions; it was a truly theatrical experience, despite the fact I was watching it on a screen.
I also found the Shakespeare’s Globe productions more helpful in familiarising myself with Shakespeare’s original plays, because they kept most of the dialogue and, most importantly, highlighted how important an actor’s performance is in conveying a certain message or tone. I always knew performance affected meaning, but I’d never really “seen” it implemented before.
In contrast, The Hollow Crown created a cycle of films, not plays, meaning that the original plays were heavily edited in places, and this is completely understandable. In order to fit a 3 hour play into a 2 hour film, some scenes have to go.
For me though, the most striking difference between The Hollow Crown and Shakespeare’s Globe is the differing focuses on tone.
The Hollow Crown’s Henry IV Part 1 is sombre from the beginning – emphasised by a particularly dark colour palette choice, low lighting and a grimy, realistic medieval setting. Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is always aware of the serious duties of kingship that await him following the death of his father, King Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) and this dwells on his mind. Of course, this is stressed to us within the dialogue Shakespeare’s Henry IV anyway, but I feel it’s especially clear in this adaptation, as the use of voice-overs allows the audience to literally get inside Hal’s head.
Hal is also clearly the central character, as opposed to the conventionally more favoured Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). While he provides some comic relief, it’s undeniable that Falstaff and his motley crew are merely temporary distractions.
In comparison, Roger Allam’s Falstaff and Jamie Parker’s Hal in Shakespeare’s Globe are constantly exchanging witty remarks and have such a visible close friendship. I felt like I was watching a sit-com, with King Henry IV (Oliver Cotton) occasionally complaining from the side-lines about Hal’s behaviour. The tone is light-hearted – even the sombre scenes were given a comic twist – and I think the actors’ interaction with the audience was superb. Considering Shakespeare as a work of theatre, I found this production much more enjoyable because it is, after all, a theatre production, as opposed to a film.
However, whilst this light-hearted tone continued into Henry IV Part 2, I feel like this jarred with sudden scenes of seriousness – like King Henry’s death, Hal’s imminent ascension and Falstaff’s rejection. In these scenes, I thought the sombre tone of The Hollow Crown production conveyed the right emotions more effectively. For example, in The Hollow Crown, I understood and supported completely why Falstaff had to be cast out by the newly crowned King Henry V – he is a drunk, a thief and a criminal. In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, I felt so much sympathy, as if Falstaff had simply been written out of the sit-com for no apparent reason.
By Henry V, I’d struggle to pick a favourite adaptation. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of King Henry V was amazing, as if Hiddleston himself had grown and developed into the role of Henry, just as Henry himself grew and developed into the role of a king. I also thought the way it was filmed was brilliant – there were lots of well done, gritty and gory battle scenes and in these scenes, I really appreciated The Hollow Crown’s choice to consistently maintain a dark and gloomy colour palette, costumes and settings.
In the Shakespeare’s Globe production, whilst the battle scenes were understandably less action-packed and dark, I enjoyed so many other aspects of this play. The comedic and light-hearted tone was carried through to this play too, which I really appreciated. After Falstaff’s death (I find it interesting how Shakespeare almost glosses over his death, despite him playing such a large part), Brendan O’Hea’s Captain Fluellen provided some much comic relief in the midst of the battles. In comparison, The Hollow Crown’s Owen Teale was definitely not designed to be funny, but more intimidating and gruff (but in a good way).
Overall, I found all 6 of these films really entertaining in different ways, and that’s absolutely fine. I’d recommend all 6 of them to you, if you have a spare few days with nothing to watch. Watching The Shakespeare Globe productions has made me more interested in theatre and other Shakespeare – I’ve since watched The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for sheer enjoyment.
Basically, if anybody wants to buy me The Hollow Crown or The Shakespeare Globe box-sets, I wouldn’t complain 😉
If you have any opinions on any of these plays or these adaptations, I’d love to hear them.
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