Laurence Olivier directs and stars in this classic adaptation of Shakespeare's play about the king who led England to victory in the Battle of Agincourt. The film pays tribute to its origins by opening in a version of the Globe Theatre in 17th century London, where Henry (Olivier) takes to the stage along with a variety of nobles to discuss his plans to stake a claim to the French throne. As the range of Henry's ambitions make themselves known, the theatrical artifice gives way to a more naturalised style and follows Henry as he sets sail from Southampton with his army. Inspired by Henry, the invading English hand the French several defeats, culminating in a triumph against far superior numbers at Agincourt. Shot during WWII, the film was designed to raise morale in the ongoing battle against Nazi Germany and earned Olivier an Academy Award for his 'outstanding achievement' in bringing the film to screen.
The definitive call to arms, Laurence Olivier's Henry V
is a patriotic saga awash with pageantry, battles, romance and political chicanery. Intended to rally Britain during the darkest days of World War II, the film shows how the star of England sought to stake an ancestral, royal claim on the soil of France. Olivier once said, famously, that "it isn't until you're older that you can understand the pictorial beauty of heroism". And at the ripe age of 37, the actor essays an insouciant character endowed with great powers of strength, spirit, and intellect. From the moment Olivier strides on screen, the audience is held both rapt and willingly captive. During his magnificent "St. Crispin's Day" speech, Olivier refuses to indulge in excessive personal close-ups, choosing instead to depict the communal impact of his words on the troops. Though he understands the importance of clear, realistic communication, Olivier the director also displays a penchant for artifice--as exemplified by his decision to open the film in a replica of the Globe Theatre. The play's various diplomatic exchanges--usually of the dull, obligatory variety--are enlivened through touches of light comedy: a sly wind blows court papers over the set as courtiers argue over boundaries and treaties. There is also humour to be found in the King's taciturn romancing of Princess Katharine (Renée Asherson). But there are also plenty of large-scale events, with Olivier demonstrating the fleetness of Shakespeare's world even as he mimics the headlong rush of destruction. A romanticised film of a nation at war, the director leaves no doubt that the British victory over the French at Agincourt (1415) was Medieval England's and the King's finest military triumph. The film is rendered complete by William Walton's magnificent score
, which pushes all the appropriate patriotic buttons. For his efforts, Olivier received a special Oscar "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer, and director in bringing Henry V
to the screen". --Kevin Mulhall
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