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on 22 July 2012
I'm not normally a fan of Shakespeare (and to be clear, this is a new BBC production of 4 Shakespeare plays Richard II, Henry IV parts 1+2 and Henry V). However I caught a bit of Richard II and had to watch the whole thing. I can only say I was captivated from the 1st moment to the last. There was a bit of a dip in Henry IV though still good. Henry V is superb and a great way to finish.
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on 15 July 2012
A pleasure to see, a rare experience nowadays on the BBC. This is one of the finest production on the BBC for years and years. This is a definite must have DVD set - just a pity all the history plays are not part of the series (or will there be a season 2?)

Just about forgive the BBC for shifting the Henry IV Part 1 to 10.00 (to show the Women's Doubles - glad that was more important than one of the best shows in the last 10 years or so - certainly up there with the I, Claudius etc)

I've always found the history plays the least inspiring of Shakespeare's plays, but not now, I will now watch them (at the Globe etc) with more enthusiasm.

Now, I hope the BBC will put on some modern plays (as with Sky Arts - if only the BBC was as good as that channel) as well as some Jacobean / Restoration / World Drama / Chekov / Ibsen and others .. Hollow Crown deserves to be followed by some more great drama
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on 31 October 2012
When I say "that's entertainment", I may sound trivial, but Within the Hollow Crown is absolutely superb. I couldn't fault it in any way. The actors did Shakespeare proud and even though the speeches are sometimes long, yet you feel as if you've heard Shakespeare's English all your life. The one that I find most touching is Henry IV's soliloquy about sleep. Of course, he had the murder of his cousin on his conscience.The plays are historical and deal with the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. Perhaps, some characters never existed, but they are tragic and true and, if anything, make the plays more poignant. I loved the faithful adherence to costumes of the period and the wooing of Katherine by Henry V. Falstaff (Henry's boozing companion) is the most sad, I think and I am not sure about Henry's treatment of him when the young rake becomes king. Perhaps some may say there's the sign of a true leader and a great king, nothing stands in his way, on the other hand ..... all these questions play on your mind when you are watching the plays. Your emotions are in turmoil. Both my husband and myself loved the mini series - it's a feast for the senses. Thank you Shakespeare, thank you BBC and thank you all you talented actors for bringing history to life.
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on 28 August 2012
I'm not going to write a long review because there are plenty to read already, but this series was brilliantly executed by some fantastic acting talent. Ignore the 1 star reviews.
BBC at its best.
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on 18 July 2013
I have been an avid theatre goer for many years and have seen these plays quite a few times. Richard 11 was never one of my favourites except for this production. It was beautiful to look at and the acting was superb. Henry 1V parts 1 and 2 again I cannot fault either the production or the acting, especially Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff. This role in the past has slightly irritated me, but he brought just the right amount of humour and pathos. So much so that I found it very moving. The interaction between Jeremy Irons as Henry 1V and young prince Hal was a revelation, wonderful acting.
Henry V again a faultless production. Some reviews I have read have been critical about some of the speeches, especially the St. Crispins day speech. This was delivered in a much more intimate manner than the usual more rousing one. I thought this worked very well.
If you have children and want to introduce them to Shakespeare I cannot think of a better way than to get them a copy of this production.
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on 22 July 2012
Just wished there was more to come. Best TV aired for years. You pick up the language after a while and we were completely absorbed by the serie. Never been a great Shakespeare fan...shock horror...but Im a convert after this.. What a man with such knowledge of people. All completely relavent to today.
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on 3 August 2012
I stumbled uopn the series during a lengthy scene between Falstaff and Hal (Henry 4th part 1) and was completely mesmerised with the first few minutes.The Henry's had always been too focused on pride,patriotism and war to really interest me and i had never really undrstood the attraction within the relationship between Hal and Falstaff.But Simon Beale and Tom Hiddleston not only allowed me a multi-layered insight into the warmth and humour within their bond but drew me in emotionally.Equally the scenes between Henry and Hal won my heart as well, both when Henry is being reprimanded and the Hollow Crown interaction prior to Henry's death-and i was riveted through out.

I have now watched the entire series at least twice I am full of praise for the quality of all the acting,the overall production and the visuals.I am impressed by the accessibility and the ease with which I have understood the language.I cannot claim to be an authority on what is the "right "way to produce these plays but as a series which was emotionally enticing and explored man's experience of friendship,family and war it certainly worked for me.Ben Whishaw was excellant in the movement of his charactor across Richard, somehow making him sympathetic as well as flawed.

I have seen the previous verions of Henry 5th but never have I sat and listed to the speeches with such attention and involvement.As much as I liked the previous actors who played Henry on screen, those scenes had been far to patriotic and batle orientated to hold my interest but Hiddleston gave them new meaning and a depth of ambiguity which had me reacing for my copy of Shakespeare.Viewers might differ in their response to his interpretation but his charisma and delivery of the text was outstanding.

Having been unaware of Hiddleston as an actor I have now been tracking his career and what has amazed and impressed me is the legion of fans from his stint as Loki God of Mischief, in the Marvel Comic films,who have emersed themselves in these plays, some of whom i suspect would never have tuned into a series on Shakespeare. The response and discussions has been both intriguing and positive.After the surfiet of cheesy entertainment shows,reality television and soaps it is breathtaking to have watched soomething which engaged both the artistic sensibilities and the mind.This BBC is one of the reasons why I sing your praises.
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on 23 July 2012
Ever since I found out about this series I had been looking forward to it with great anticipation, not least because these are some of my favourite Shakespeare plays but also because as a student of medieval history I have a particular interest in the period then the plays are set.

I admit I rather doubted the BBCs capacity to be faithful to the setting without being obsessively politically correct but was, for the most part pleasantly surprised.

In Richard II Ben Wishaw was excellent in the title role as a king whose sense of his own majesty gave him a sense of something like detachment from the events around him. Whishaw's Richard could be nothing other than a King, and one could almost believe that by taking his crown, Bolingbroke also destroyed Richard the man.

Patrick Stewart as the ailing John of Gaunt was also an excellent casting choice, and for the most part the production was solid, authentic looking and realistic.
My only gripe was that some of the violence did seem a little excessive, and it hardly seemed likely that anyone would deliver the severed heads of traitors to the King personally in a basket, and that King Richard seemed much too camp at times. His possible homosexual tendencies were only rumoured and never proven that I know of, but here they seem to be presented as an obvious and known fact in some places.

In Henry IV Jeremy Irons gave us a more 'grown up', mature, brooding and more troubled Henry beset by rebellion, illness and his own conscience. Shakespeare did a wonderful job of portraying Henry's gradual breakdown as he struggled to retain control of his kingdom and his household and Irons depicts this well.
I loved Joe Armstong as the headstrong and cocky Hotspur (though I never really liked him as Allan a Dale), with friction between him and fellow rebel Owen Glendower very noticeable.

The only real disappointment for me was Falstaff who for the most part simply seemed unfunny, and just sounded like an unhinged old man talking to himself when he delivered the soliloquies that were meant to give insights into his character, and the only other gripe I had was the sexual content.
It was obvious that Doll Tearsheet was a prostitute, and anyone could guess what she and Falstaff got up to in the bedroom so was it really necessary for the programme makers to show them 'at it' anyway? Not really.

Henry V, my favourite Shakespeare play of all was a total let down, which did not nearly reach the standard of its predecessors. It was not the play that was the problem- it has enough political intrigue, romance, heroism, battle scenes, acts of courage and emotional poignancy to make a first rate Drama, and there have been wonderful adaptations of it in the past, most notably Kenneth Branagh's 1989 version. However, the casting, quality of acting and editing of the latest version created a mutilated, disjointed, and rather dry and non-compelling adaptation.

Personally, for me Tom Hiddleston did not 'cut it' as the Shakespeare's warrior King Henry V whose charisma and strength of character alone could inspire his men to victory. Indeed, this Henry seemed positively lightweight.
Many of the other characters seem to have lacked any depth, and simply delivered their lines without sounding as though their heart was really in it. Thus there seemed to be little feeling or emotion in this version as there is in Branagh's. Even the famous Crispin's Day speech (`We Few we happy few') to me did not seem at all moving or inspiring, and the humorous scenes or interludes failed to deliver any comic relief.

The filmmakers cut out a number of scenes and passages, including the Southampton Plot in which three nobles were discovered to have planned to kill King Henry before he left for France. This scene was arguably important in its depiction of Henry's character development as it shows he was capable of making tough and even painful decisions to protect his kingdom- the harsh reality for Medieval kings, as well as showing that there was opposition to him.

Also Henry's two brothers Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and John Duke of Bedford (formerly John of Lancaster in Henry IV) are absent from this version for reasons unknown. Though Bedford's absence can perhaps be historically justified because he was not at Agincourt, his brother Gloucester was. So why not include him?
Yet despite his sibling's absence Henry is still heard to say 'we are in God's hand brother' after treating with the French herald- a line originally delivered in response to Gloucester's voicing his hope that the French would not come upon the English too soon, when his brother is not even there and the line makes no sense.

Instead the Duke of York, a minor character with only a few lines in the original play replaces them in a prominent role, constantly appearing as something like the King's 'right hand man'- and sometimes seemingly being given other characters' lines or roles.
For instance it was the King's Uncle the Duke of Exeter that Pistol asked Llewellyn to intercede with to stop Bardolph being hanged in the original play, yet for some reason in this version York is the one who is responsible for this. It can be assumed that the elevation of York's character reflected the casting of an Ethnic minority actor is his role, and the BBC's desire to ensure he was not therefore overshadowed by White British actors with `bigger' or more important roles.

Finally, events surrounding the killing of the prisoners at Agincourt (which was cut out of Branagh's version) did not seem to be well portrayed- it is shown that Henry feared the French would regroup and make a fresh attack hence his given the order to kill the prisoners, but all we see are three French knights riding by, hardly enough to pose a threat.
Thus the whole scene is implausible especially when Henry refers to the French knights still riding over the field when only he and a few English soldiers are visible.

Only the beginning and final scene of this version really featuring Henry's funeral seemed to be any good, as they helped to 'round off' the story and give the audience a sense of finality- as well as letting them know what happened to Henry. The chorus' closing speech recounting the loss of France and demise of the Lancastrian dynasty gave the ending a poignantly tragic note, but one which sadly could not make up for the deficiencies of the rest of the play. The final installment was, in my opinion was a disappointing and weak conclusion to an otherwise great series.
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on 10 April 2016
The hollow crown which has Richard 11 Henry the 1v part one and two plus Henry V is first of all fantastic value these bbc productions are films in their own right and the production values and the acting are second to none i rate this box set very highly i saw them all on tv when they were shown originally and it was a real treat to watch them all again
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on 16 October 2012
God how I wish we'd had shakespeare adaptions like these while I was at school (which admitedly I only left 6 years ago)!! Ive always loved shakespeare inspite of the dreary lessons we merely endured, with some truly dull and lifeless 1970s adaptions to try and fire our passions for the bard, but these new adaptions of the history plays are, in my opinion, a triumph.
Starting with Richard II, Ben Whishaw plays the titular role and brings an otherworldliness to the character, along with brilliantly portraying Richard's vanities and insecurities, and his total belief in the divine right of kings. Every emotion is on display in Bens face, evoking everyone from Michael Jackson to St Sebastian (it's amazing how much Ben looks like a pre-raphaelite painting!), and even Christ himself, and he handles the language like the pro that he is. Ben heads up what is a who's-who check list of British thespians, not least Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt, aswell as Rory Kinnear as Henry Bollingbrooke, and David Suchet, David Morrisey, and Clemence Poesy, among many many others. I have to give special mention to the deposition scene, where Richard officially, and reluctantly, hands over the crown to Bollingbrooke- Dear god the scene is riveting, and is a powerhouse of a performance from both Ben and Rory. Eyes literally glued to the screen throughout the scene. The St Sebastian imagery may have been overdone and, some might argue, unneccessary, but, for me, its a minor quibble with what is otherwise a brilliant adaption.
Next up, the Henry plays. Henry IV parts 1 and 2 see's the great Jeremy Irons take the title role, as the aged king, plagued by guilt and anxiety over the manner of his coming to the throne, and hoping to pass on the crown to his wayward son, Hal, who would rather spend time in the pub than take on affairs of state. Jeremy Irons is his usual brilliant self, magnificently portraying a troubled king who is deeply unhappy with the behaviour of his son. Cannot criticise this performance which some are claiming as his finest since Brideshead revisited. Tom Hiddleston plays the wayward Hal. Ok, yes I am a fan of Loki from the Thor/Avengers movies, but Tom is a fine actor beyond that and handles the role very well, naturally tackling the language and the transition of a young prince from petulant brat to regal king. His scenes with Jeremy Irons are brilliant, especially the verbal chastisement from the king, and where Hal assumes (a tad too early!) the crown from his father. Truly moving stuff. Simon Russell Beale speakes shakepeare like a second language, and slightly underplays the comedic role of Falstaff, yet combines all the elements of the character- the jolyness in the Pub, aswell as his scheming side. The scene where Hal rejects Falstaff in Part 2 is, I think, very well done and you really sense how hard it hits Falstaff, whatever his motivation for sticking with Hal may have been in the first place.
Lastly, but not least, Henry V. Again, I think this was a truly worthy adaption with some great moments. Lots of people have been less impressed with the Crispins Day speech, and I take their point about making the speech to the leaders and not to the common men on the ground. I think the idea of making the speech to a small group of men is a sound one, but the idea just doesnt seem to have been executed as well it might have done. Again, Tom Hiddleston seems at ease with the language, and I think his scene where the king mingles with the men in disguise the night before Agincourt is very well done- successfully getting across the fears of men who appear to be staring death and defeat in the face, questioning the very nature of war and leadership. Yes there are scenes missing which many feel was a profound mistake, but what is here is brilliant, and a bold, worthy adaption of a play which has a much celebrated history, with some of the most famous adaptions ever comitted to film. A personal highlight was watching Henry court the princess Katherine..... a genuinely charming, funny, sweet scene which had me giggling like a love-struck schoolgirl :)
All in all, while some may argue that there are imperfections to this series, kudos to the BBC for taking on the challenge in the first place! This is a brave and, in my view, stylish, classy series, with some wonderful scenes and performances, and of course the glorious words of Shakespeare. If nothing else, I think younger audiences will hopefully be turned on to shakespeare more widely as a result of these adaptions, and that surely has to be a plus in itself.

xxxxx
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