July 22nd, 2012

The Hollow Crown, Part IV

They say a single picture is worth a thousand words, but I'm not sure that's the case when the words are Shakespeare's. Thea Sharrock 's version of Henry V excises huge quantities of text to accommodate hackneyed, wordless images of feet slogging through mud and people looking apprehensive or knocking seven bells out of one another or suffering the medieval equivalent of shell-shock. The result is a slow, plodding, miserablist account of the play- one that clips a dimension or two off Shakespeare's complicated vision of war- how it happens, what it's like and what it's good for.

One of the dimensions that's been ruthlessly sheared away is comedy. That seems to have been a decision made- high up- by whoever was over-seeing the series. No-one- not even Falstaff- has been allowed to be funny. I know Pistol is problematic- but Sharrock (and Eyre before her) lets him gabble- the quicker to move him off-stage. Fluellen loses all his jokes. If Shakespeare embarrasses you, better not to do him. Go make a super-hero movie instead. Mistress Quickly's account of the Death of Falstaff is one of the most touching things in the canon- and Julie Walters swallows her words. O God, God, God- that I should be straining to hear what she's saying! Watch Margaret Rutherford do it in Chimes At Midnight and have your withers properly wrung.

The more the season has progressed, the more I've chafed at it's shortcomings- mostly in the directorial line. The actors have all been wonderful. Jeremy Irons was tremendous as a nervy, guilt-tripping Henry IV,  Simon Russell Beale was a compelling Falstaff, even without the humour.  But Henry V is not overflowing with great roles. There's Henry himself and that's about it. If the action is allowed to slow, and you cut the comedy, there's not much for an actor to get his teeth into.(Paterson Joseph was wasted as York and given a ridiculous- extra-textual- death scene). That puts a great weight on Tom Hiddleston's shoulders. I hated him as Hal (I was meant to- he was playing a Bullingdon boy) and he didn't do enough to make me like him here. The great roaring speeches were played in as downbeat a manner as possible- because War is Hell (innit?)- and the charm didn't show itself until the wooing of Katherine- which is too late in the day. He's a fine actor. He should have insisted Thea give him a cart to climb on for the Crispin Crispian speech.