20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
In the history of cinema, there have been two magnificent versions of Shakespeare's greatest play, this and Olivier's. While Olivier's version is pretty good, for my money this is the best.
This really is a magnificent film. At its heart is the grand vision of Shakespeare, and his beautiful language. But Branagh has done something special in bringing it to the screen. He's used a range of modern Shakespeareans, almost every role is filled by a famous face. By using such a multitude of skilled actors, every line of Shakespeare's text is delivered professionally and in a way calculated to evoke the greatest response in the audience. The text is delivered fluently, yet accessible and understandable to the modern audience - no mean feat! Derek Jacobi makes a captivating narrator, Robert Stephens is a suitably rascally Pistol, Richard Briers is a revelation as Bardolph. Branagh himself excels in the central role, managing to portray the two sides of Henry's character, the martial and the roisterer, very well. I could go on, but there are so many good performances from famous names it would take all day.
Then there is the cinematography - never has the battle of Agincourt been brought to such visceral life on celluloid. Whereas Olivier when for grandeur with the silvers clad knights charging across the field, Branagh goes for gritty realism, that leaves you feeling quite exhausted by the time it's all over.
Branagh has taken a few liberties with text, by including a few scenes featuring Falstaff from Henry IV pt 2, but these are necessary to explain the two sides of Hal's character (and sets up one of the most moving scenes, where Mistress Quickly (Judy Dench) describes the death of the great Knight). There are also a few cuts and rearrangements, but these serve to keep the narrative flowing and make the film a bit more accessible. The text has been treated with much respect though, and the majesty of Shakespeare's language shines through. My favourite scene is one which Olivier cut - the unveiling of the traitors. I still get a shiver when I hear Branagh utter the line `Look then and know - I know your worth...' Classic.
The score is especially worthy of note. Patrick Doyle manages to evoke the period with a score that is by turns ominous and martial, punctuating the text perfectly. It's a match for Walton's score for Olivier's version.
The version being reviewed is the 2002 disc from Universal. This is a pretty basic release, in 16:9 widescreen and a stereo soundtrack. There are no subtitles or extras. The sound and picture are pretty clean and watchable, but I can't help feel that it's time (it's the 20th anniversary of the film this year) for a proper remastering and a special edition release.
This is a classic film, one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys good cinema. It's done in a very accessible fashion, so not just for Shakespeare experts, this should appeal to all, and, like it did with me, will probably help get people interested in the Bard. Buy it, you won't be disappointed.
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2000
Branagh's Henry V is very conscious of Olivier before him in the heroic mould. This time the budget does not permit a full scale cavalry charge and armies thousands strong at Harfleur and Agincourt. But then, Shakespeare himself had to represent these battles with fewer resources even than Branagh. In Branagh's case (as in Shakespeare's) the answer was to focus on the inidviduals. He conveys the visceral fear of battle against a superior enemy very well. We are touched by Mistress Quickly's farewell to Falstaff, and Nym/Bardolph/Pistol/Boy's farewell to the Boar's Head to which none will return unchanged. Branagh's production never forgets the gritty reality of personal grief, fear and tragedy (viz the hanging of poor old Bardolph), but still allows us the jingoistic buzz of the Agincourt scorecard 10,000 French to 29 English. Branagh's Henry V is on a much smaller canvas than Olivier's, but Shakespeare's was smaller still. Good job.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2005
I adore this film. The acting is outstanding, particularly that of Kenneth Brannagh. The way Brannagh has adapted Shakespeare is a little bit risky, particularly when he imports a bit of another play (Henry IV) to explain how the king has "broken the heart" of Sir John Falstaff - but some explanation had to be made. He also cuts out some other stuff that a 20th century audience might not find very appealing in this King whom Shakespeare wants to practically canonise: like the king's order for all French prisoners' throats to be cut at Agincourt (act IV scene 7). I think the alterations are acceptable. He leaves out one bit of gruesome dialogue I'd rather he had left in, when Henry makes a little speech to the French herald to emphasize the fact that he will not be ransomed and the only profit they'll get out of him are his "joints" (act IV scene 3). He goes on to say that any English corpses left on the field will kill twice over because "the sun shall greet them", they'll rot and choke the air, "killing in replapse of mortality". Neat!
Shakespeare's king is an ambivalent figure, and Brannagh brings this out well, although not in quite the same way as does Shakespeare. I particularly like the scene after the battle, when Henry carries a dead boy off the field, through the scene of carnage where the muddy puddles are red with blood, passing a group of three French princes, one dead, kneeling in a way that refers to a pieta.
Shakespeare/Brannagh's Henry seeks war, but sees it as his duty. The reasons he has for seeing war as his duty relate to a particular kind of naked patriotism that does not appeal to me, but that does not detract from the attractiveness of the character: it gives a sense of "otherness", of time having moved on: and actually you get the feeling that Henry himself has "moved on" by the end of the film. There's a sensitive portrayal of human behaviour in the face of death. And on the eve of Agincourt, Henry has an ethical discussion with some of his soldiers: if soldiers kill on the orders of the king while doubting the justice of his cause, do they stand exempt from blame?
Oh, I do like this film!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2009
Kenneth Branagh's finest hour, this adaptation of Shakespeare's classic history play is chock-full of great performances, killer lines and heroic gestures. Branagh acts and directs - and he was made to play the feckless Prince Hal who becomes England's finest warrior King. Forget Olivier; this is the definitive version; having taught the play at both Y9 and GCSE I have watched it many times and never tire of it. Even Brian Blessed rises to the occasion as The King's uncle, and the battle scenes are excellent. Having recently seen Timothy West's version in Manchester, I could easily detect the influence of Branagh's epic and that's no bad thing I can tell you.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Maybe Kenneth Branagh is like marmite, you either love him or hate him! I love him and this is amongst his finest works in my opinion. It doesn't pretend to be a great film, they didn't have the budget for that and I'm not sure it would be appropriate anyway, but it is I suggest a great filmed version of the play.
Branagh himself is magnificent and the supporting cast is superb. All in all a wonderful version.
I know many people admire the Olivier version but, whilst I can see where they are coming from, the acting is very stilted and dated. This is much better in my opinion but accept that's a matter of taste.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2008
Branagh's first screen version of a play by Shakespeare is still, in my opinion his best. It has often gained adverse criticism as being too like the RSC production in which he had recently starred and a pale imitation of Olivier's film. Neither comment is really fair though I wish Branagh had not followed Olivier's lead and been bold enough to include Henry's command during a tricky moment during the battle of Agincourt to "kill all the prisoners." Branagh does, however, grapple with the play's implied and most important question: is Henry V a good king or merely a successful one? The film can also be seen as a dialogue with the forties version. Whereas Olivier's interpretation of the night before Agincourt, has visual echoes of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene, when Branagh's Henry puts on Erpinham's cloak, he looks rather like the Grim Reaper. There is also an homage to the extended shot of the French knights galloping towards the English lines in glorious sunshine. In Branagh's version the end of the battle shows the exhausted soldiers walking off the field amid mud and carnage, looking absolutlely drained of energy; is it significant that Olivier's long shot is filmed from left to right and Branagh's is the other way round? Branagh also emphasises the psychological cost of war, no more so than when Henry orders the execution of Bardolp, an old drinking companion, his crime being that of looting from a church. Branagh should also be given credit for filming Shakespeare at a time when it was deeply unfashionable; no popular version of any of his plays had been made for about fifteen years. After it the floodgates opened and all through the nineties at least two films based on the bard were released every year. None was more challenging than this one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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This is Shakespeare done right. Branagh absolutely understands everything about what makes The Bard so special. The movie looks excellent and Branagh is great in the role of King Henry V, formerly the unreliable Prince Hal, who goes to war with the French in order to claim land for his country. This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and one of my favorite characters. Branagh uses flashbacks to convey exposition (actually scenes from Henry IV) that show the complex relationship between Harry and his tenacious drinking buddy, Sir John Falstaff. This fleshes out the story, and helps the audience understand the past conflicts of Harry. The movie also functions as a fantastic war movie.
Of course, this film contains some of Shakespeare's most stirring speeches. The famous speech Harry delivers to his men on the Eve of St. Crispin's Day is brilliant and inspiration, and Branagh's delivery of it is the best I've heard. The movie also has one of the best tracking shots I've ever seen, a beautiful example that shows the carnage and emotion of an enormous battle. Branagh captures the humanity in King Harry, effectively showing the character development of several plays in a single film.
This goes to show you: the formula doesn't have to change for an adaptation like this to be successful. It doesn't have to be updated for the modern era. Shakespeare has endured for so long because of the beauty in his language and the simple but complex stories he used it to tell. Henry V is one of the most worthy adaptations of his work that I've seen.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
For a first effort at feature-film direction, now-veteran director/writer/actor Kenneth Branagh provided an astonishing introduction to his many talents in filmmaking with his 1989 production, 'Henry V'. There is a gritty realism brought to the screen in this production that combines in dynamic and interesting ways with the Shakespearean dialogue and situations. The battle scenes are some of the best in cinema for depicting the kind of royal and knightly battles. A special commendation goes to cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, art directors Martin Childs, Norman Dorme, John King, and costume designer Phyllis Dalton for combining elements of stage and screen together to complement the story perfectly without overpowering it. Indeed, the picture won the Oscar for Best Costumes; Branagh was nominated for Best Leading Actor and Best Director. The film and crew were nominated for and won many other awards as well.
One of the problems of Shakespeare on the silver screen is that the situations, settings, and acting often ends up somewhat contrived. That rarely happens here, because of this remarkable team.
The principle writing credit of course goes to William Shakespeare, but as is always the case, the play is recast to make the film medium more natural for the story. Kenneth Branagh is the one credited here, and has shown himself several times after this film as a master of adapting Shakespeare faithfully to the screen.
The play itself is one of Shakespeare's history plays -- remember the broad three categories of Shakespeare: history, drama (some say tragedy), and comedy. Like most of the history plays, there is creative license taken with the actual history, as it is invariably adapted to make the present regime look good, credible and more legitimate. This explains why Richard III in Shakespeare is far more villainous than in actual life; in Henry V, the country had a great and (for the period) uncontroversial hero - the last king of England to be acknowledged the dominant power in Britain and in France, succeeding in unwinnable situations, and, as befits a good historical hero, dies young before he has the chance to destroy his image. The play has always been popular in times of national crisis - see Olivier's production of Henry V during World War II depicting the king as a national saviour against continental foes.
The action of the play and film turns on the legitimacy of Henry's rule in France (an issue still for Elizabethan audiences, as Elizabeth was crowned with supposed rights to France). The French are depicted as haughty and disdainful of the young king (interesting how some things don't change), and the battle lines are drawn. The film here sets the stage for a far more ambiguous justification for war than is often depicted in the play, leaving the viewer wondering if, for all the glory of the battles, was there a real point, or was it legalistic/diplomatic trickery?
There is also the interesting scene with the conspirators against the king, unmasked as the forces are about to depart for France. Cambridge, Scrope and Grey are exposed, but the dialogue and acting hints as a more intimate relationship with Henry V - possibly this references obliquely the rumours of homosexuality, or at least bisexuality, in the historical Henry.
The players are excellent here, from Branagh himself as Henry V, and Brian Blessed his strong right arm Exeter. Paul Scofield (Thomas More in 'A Man for All Seasons') plays the ancient French king, Charles VI, and his son the Dauphin is played by Michael Maloney. This is, on the whole, a rather 'young' film, as Branagh himself was not yet 30 at the time of production, and most of his aides and friends in the play are similarly young, save for a few senior advisors. Emma Thompson, a staple in Branagh's films, plays the only significant female role, the princess Katherine, to whom Henry will be wed. Her part is almost entirely in French. Her maid, Alice, is played by Geraldine McEwan (perhaps best known from 'Mapp & Lucia').
The famous speeches here are preserved; Branagh does a fantastic job with his spirit-raising monologue for the troops prior to the battle of Agincourt, on Crispin Crispian day. The speech on horseback in the early seige of Harfleur, 'once more into the breech!' is also remarkable. The lines delivered by all the actors are done with care and precision - Exeter's report to Henry at the opening ('tennis balls', said with great sneer) and to the French party ('scorn', said with so much scorn the word need not be spoken) are but a few examples of this.
The film expands upon the play's use of Falstaff's companions as a comic relief, by incorporating what would be flash-back scenes from events in the Henry IV play cycle, premonitions of events currently in the play. Robbie Coltrane turns in a good performance as Falstaff; look for Judi Dench in a minor role as the Mistress, and a very young Christian Bale as the boy.
The music for the film is triumphant, foreboding and dark. This is a wonderful score produced by Patrick Doyle, known for work on other Branagh films such as 'Dead Again' and 'Much Ado about Nothing', as well as other films such as 'Indochine' and literature-based films like 'Gosford Park' and 'Great Expectations'.
Derek Jacobi, veteran Shakespearean, portrays 'Chorus', the narrator of the action, one who casts the right spirit from beginning to end, and appears throughout. There are few Shakespearean asides done by the actors here (a few under-the-breath comments that might qualify), but Jacobi's role is always directly to camera, directly to us as the spectators. The ending portrayed by Chorus is both victorious and tragic, much as the cycle of history must be.
This is a glorious film.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2010
The problem with most `Shakespeare movies' is pretty simple, they were written for the theatre and it is difficult to make them work on the screen. This problem never seems to occur here; there is a sense of cinematic scale that just makes it work. Each scene flows seamlessly into the next so that the abridgements - and the additions taken from Henry the Fourth - seem utterly natural.
The primary `bad' is the packaging; the DVD cover looks cheap and dated. This does not do the film any justice at all. For a film made just over twenty years ago, it is remarkable how little it has dated. The battle scenes are a highlight for me, though this is where the age (lack of CG) and budget (not Hollywood scale) might disappoint some.
The overall concern I had when approaching this film was that with Kenneth Branagh as writer, director, and star, this film might prove something of an ego trip. In this I was pleasantly surprised, the title role by no means eclipses the others; in fact; the strong performances from a host of other actors is the main virtue of the production.
I would recommend this as a classic with a distinctly contemporary feel. Five stars.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 2000
An excellent blend of tradition and innovation. Highly accessible. Branagh is occasionally over-exuberant (which is where it wears thin). But well worth seeing and owning.