Television: Great Performances, "The Hollow Crown: Henry V"

Once more, and for the final time, into the breach I go . . .

Henry V is one of the best known of Shakespeare's histories. On the heels of Henry IV (Parts I & II), this play deals chiefly with Henry's fight with France over a number of duchies. Because that's what you do when someone sends you tennis balls; you start a war.

It's odd, too, in going from Henry IV to Henry V, how there is a sudden elevation of Hal (now Henry). They even remark on it, how overnight he seemed to change from wild child to steady sovereign. I suppose there's something to be said for a man who knows his duty and is able and willing to take it up when the mantel passes to him; better, then, that he already spent his youth when faced with more mature problems.

Also, apparently it is a rule that once you become king you have to grow a moustache and beard. And wear a crown that makes your ears fold out like Prince John in Disney's Robin Hood cartoon. Can't they size that thing or something?

Falstaff dies (at least we got that over with). And the English army heads to France.

Anyway, they fight a couple battles, and on the the night before Agincourt (which I guess means the night of October 24) Henry goes around pretending to be just another one of the guys and makes small talk with the troops. Also, Henry does a lot of praying. And tells a French herald (Montjoy) that the English men's gayness is besmirched, but promises they'll be gay again later. Or something like that.

(Seriously, it was really late, and I was a bit punchy.)

Somehow, despite being incredibly outnumbered, the English win at Agincourt. (More modern estimates sometimes do not put the numbers so far in the French's favor, but that's another discussion for another time.) And then Henry goes and marries the French king's daughter (wooing her with incredibly flat-sounding French, though I'm sure Mr. Hiddleston could do better if he really tried). And the play abruptly ends with the Chorus (in this case John Hurt) reminding us that Henry VI, born to be King of France and England, went and ruined it all. The little pissant.

Which leaves viewers asking, "But what about Henry V?" Well, he died only two years after marrying Catherine (in Shakespeare, Katherine). Shakespeare, in his usual way, glossed events a tad. Agincourt was in 1415; the marriage took place in 1420, after continued campaigns that brought the English army nearly as far as Paris. And even after the wedding, Henry kept fighting. Until he got sick and died suddenly in 1422.

Whatever. Shakespeare wasn't writing for accuracy, he was writing for feeling. Namely, patriotic feeling designed to stir the hearts of his British audience. And so of course Henry is pious and wonderful, a fabulous king.

But it's a good play, and here done well; I found it far more entertaining than the two Henry IV installments.

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