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
Henry V is one of Shakespeare's most compelling historical plays. Early in the play, Henry sets out to press his claim to the Crown of France. His small expedition encounters vastly superior French forces at Agincourt, and there Henry delivers his famous exhortation to the soldiers. His army victorious, the King visits the French Court where he meets and marries Catherine of Valois, thereby establishing the beginning of a promising alliance with France. Henry V was produced and directed by Laurence Olivier.