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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The King Grows Up, 9 Jan 2003
This review is from: Henry V [DVD] (DVD)
This is a wonderful film, in which Kenneth Branagh's passion for his art is very obvious. It's a trifle "over the top", but personally I like that.
King Henry V has spent his youth making whopee, but grows up in a hurry when he feels he has to pursue a claim on the French throne created by his ancestor, the Black Prince, at Crecy. He is underestimated by the French king (an out-of-touch old man played exquisitely by Paul Scofield), and by an effete dophin. Henry accordingly sets out for France, and we see him at Harfleur, where he delivers his "Once more into the breech" speech, and on to Agincourt, where we hear another famous speech: "... we few, we happy few, we band of brothers ...".
Branagh has adapted Shakespeare's script for film. Some of the changes are obviously desirable. He drops the dialogues that take place while the battle is actually raging because he doesn't need these devices - he can show pictorial images instead. Other omissions are a bit more controversial, as at the end of the battle where Fleuellen finds the boys in the camp have had their throats cut and Henry says "I was not angry since I came to France till now." Shakespeare's text tells us that the king's tent was ransacked too, and that as result of these two breeches of the laws of arms Henry tells his soldiers to cut the throats of their prisoners. That little act is the only one in the play that makes me shudder. But then I'm reading it with modern eyes. Branagh has made his adaptation for just such modern eyes, and it could be argued that he is wrong to do so.
One piece of text that I'm sorry not to find in the film happens when Harry receives a messenger from the French asking the king to fix a sum for his own ransom - he's outnumbered, and is sure to be taken prisoner. Henry says the French will get nothing but his "joints", or bones; he will die with his men. Shakespeare has a lovely, earthy bit of rhetoric here, when Harry describes what will happen to him and all the English who die with him: they'll either be taken home, buried under brass memorials that will show their deeds of bravery (thus inspiring others), or their bodies will lie in the field where they fell, the sun will shine on them, they will rot and raise a "pestilence" in France. English soldiers kill twice over! What a pity Branagh left out that earthy speech. Perhaps he thought a modern audience too squeamish.
Another interesting little feature is that, just before the battle, the knights kiss the ground or smell the earth. Clearly Henry was a fan of Russell Crowe.
Both Shakespeare and Branagh clearly admire Henry V, and their picture of him is very warm. Branagh's Henry weeps while he watches an old drinking companion hanged for robbing a church. Henry is genuinely pious, but you catch the desperation in his prayer before the battle, when he begs God "not today, oh, not today" [remember how his father came to power by murdering Richard II]. It would be more grammatical to say - don't remember this today. To reverse the phrase makes it wonderfully real.
The use of film rather than the stage makes it possible to create some lovely moments. Just before the last march to Agincourt, Henry says of his exhausted little army: "We are in God's hands now" - and the rain immediately comes down in buckets! Then we see the changes in the French messenger, Montjoy, who, in his repeated embassies to Henry, gains an increasing respect for him. The last bit of dialogue they have takes place when the battle has just finished. Montjoy, who has come to ask leave for the French to retrieve their dead, puts a hand out to help Henry when the latter collapses in exhaustion.
This is a gorgeous film. I can't stop watching it.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Sep 2008 14:13:49 BDT
D. Meers says:
Before a battle every man would kneel down and kiss the ground and place a piece of the soil in their mouth (a kind of Eucharist), this is an historical fact

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Aug 2010 02:29:30 BDT
That's an interesting piece of information, thanks!
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