Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 1

(Movie Review)

Why I Saw This Movie
Following Richard II, this is the next movie in the BBC's adaptation (W) of Shakespeare's Henriad (W).

My History with this Play
This was assigned reading in one of my college literature courses.  It made an impression on me, so I remember it well.  More recently, I also used to have this play on audio book  and (before my ipod erased it) became more familiar with this play by listening and re-listening to it numerous times.  It's the Shakespeare play I know the best.

Positives and Negative
* Positive: This is one of Shakespeare's best plays, so any adaptation of it has a lot going for it right off the bat just from the original source material.

* Positive: Related to the above point, as compared to it's predecessor Richard II, this play is generally a lot more watchable-- a lot more action, comedy and fast dialogue

* Negative For some reason I'm not sure about, they didn't keep the actors consistent between this movie and Richard II--I would have thought the whole point of doing Shakespeare's Henriad as one coherent project would have been to keep the actors consistent from movie to movie.

* Positive Although I'm somewhat disappointed they didn't keep the actor for Henry Bolingbroke consistent, Jeremy Irons does a great job in this.

* Negative One of the disadvantages of watching a Shakespeare play you're already familiar with is that you tend to be disappointed with the delivery of lines you already know--some of the lines which I remember as having a lot of dramatic force or humor on the audio book recording, got under-delivered in this movie--either mumbled, or stepped on.

* Negative: Related to the above point, the tavern scenes weren't quite as funny as they should have been, as a result of some of the punchlines being missed or under-delivered.

* Negative Related to the two above points: Falstaff was played a bit subdued in this adaptation, and didn't come out as the fully larger than life character I was hoping for.

* Positive But on the other hand, it's probably unfair to compare individual line readings from different adaptations--any adaptation will have to pick and choose which lines get the most dramatic force, and although this adaptation under-played some memorable lines, it did a good job with others.

* Positive Considering this was a made-for-TV movie with a made-for-TV budget, the battle scenes came off looking decently impressive.

* Negative Still, at the risk of being greedy, you can't help but wish that these battle scenes hadn't been on a made-for-TV budget, and had gotten the fully Hollywood movie treatment--alas!

The Review
There were a few missed opportunities in this adaptation--the tavern scenes weren't as rich or as funny as they could have been.  But there were some successes as well.  Jeremy Irons was brilliant as Henry IV, and the film's versions of his big confrontation with Prince Hal came through with full force.

Rating :
7 out of 10 Stars.  (The original source material gets a solid 9, but I'm taking a couple points off for some missed opportunities in the adaptation.)

For my take on other plays in the Shakespeare history saga, see my college paper on Henry IV part 2 here, and book review of Richard III here.  Many of the same themes of Henry IV are in Oliver Stone's movie W. and (although I can't find the article now) I once saw an interview with Oliver Stone in which he claimed he deliberately modeled the beginning of W. on  Henry IV , so here is my review of W.

External Links
The AVclub's review here.  I agree with them on some points, and disagree with them on some points, but the folks at the avclub can always be counted on to put in a good thoughtful review.

Link of the Day
Education: For Whom and For What?


Anonymous said...

I found the tavern scenes to had a poignancy that gave you a greater understanding of the relationship between Hal and Falstaff. This was the forth version I have seen of Henry 1V and have never found the tavern scenes particularly funny to the point of tediousness so this production which focussed on the tavern relationships was preferable.
Listening to Shakespeare is often very different experience to watching as you have only the dialogue to focus on. I enjoy both experiences but listening as limitations to interpretation.
This has so far been my favourite version of Henry 1V PT 1/2 partly down to the amazing ensemble acting, the accessibility for a wider audience and the ability to lift it out of the theatre onto the screen whilst maintain the essence of the play.

Joel Swagman said...

Your point is well taken. I perhaps was overly focusing on the negatives instead of the positives. While the tavern scene was not as funny as it could have been, it was also not as tedious as it might have been in other hands.
This is the only film version of Henry IV Part 1 I have seen. My only other experience is reading the book and listening to the audio book. So I can't compare to other versions. It may well be (as you say) that this is the best version of the bunch.
And I do admit that listening to the audio book gave me perhaps unreasonable expectations for the delivery of the lines. The thing with audio books is that each line has to be spoken so clearly because the visuals are not there to help you. And I was used to each of these lines getting a lot of emphasis from the audio book, and somewhat disappointed with how much a lot of them were mumbled through in the film version.
Another thing I remember from the audio book is how pompous the character of Falstaff was. For example, in the audio recording, when Falstaff was pretending to be the king and talking about himself as if he were Hal's father, there was just a real pompousness and arrogance that came through the voice and made the scene all the more delightful. I didn't think this film version captured it quite so much, but maybe I had unrealistic expectations.