Learn more Download now Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Moana - Listen with Prime Shop now Shop now

on 15 September 2017
At last this wonderful, groundbreaking series is available in Britain, 53 years after it was made! The merits of its various star performances are so enshrined in theatrical history there's no point in me going into them, & this was after all essentially an ensemble production, the project that cemented the house style of the late Sir Peter Hall's RSC and ensured its international fame. Nevertheless, several standout performances never received the credit they warranted, e.g. Charles Kay, Roy Dotrice, Susan Engel & William Squire. The latter is especially impressive as the Duke of Buckingham. Like so many of the characters in this dynastic power struggle (preceding Game of Thrones by 450 years!) Buckingham seems utterly contemporary. He could easily fit into the present cabinet. Squire's handling of Shakespeare's language is a masterclass, & I can't understand why he isn't better known. The whole cast sounds modern & immediate, even if some of the older actors like Donald Sinden & Brewster Mason retain the fruitiness that was the norm 60 years ago. John Barton clearly schooled them well, & his enthusiasm for authentic Elizabethan pronunciation is in evidence at times. The acting style too has hardly dated either: Ian Holm's throwaway delivery makes Richard of Gloucester seem very real & contemporary, for example. The look of the plays in black & white in stunning, with only the occasional "blip" or "twitch" on the videotapes reminding us how primitive TV still was in this country in 1964. But these 3 recordings, made onstage at Stratford, aspire to be grittily cinematic, nowhere more so than in the battle scenes, which are visceral, vile & vicious. No mediaeval chivalry here! According to Janet Suzman (Joan of Arc/Queen Anne) in a fascinating interview after the Richard III film, audience members were fainting during the battle scenes! How desensitised we've become: nowadays audiences only do that in Titus Andronicus! The whole 9 hour marathon is a terrific piece of theatre & TV history, the most important Shakespeare DVD release in many years. Only in Richard III does the sound lack quality. Barton's condensing the 3 parts of Henry VI into 2 is masterly. Others have attempted the same thing (Pennington/Bogdanov, Rutter/Nelson) but this is the version that still sets the standard. How wonderful to have it on DVD at last!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 15 November 2017
Wow. This is riveting stuff. To any doubters who think this might be dated or somehow lacking in immediacy, think again. This is powerful stuff.

I don't think I have ever been so on the edge of my seat watching Shakespeare as I have been watching this. It has an amazingly contemporary feel and energy to it: it's exciting, it's excellent drama, it's full of action, and it's superb telly - 50 years down the line. Never mind the grainy black and white and the unfamiliar format of the picture. You'll forget that in about two seconds. Just revel in the sheer quality of the drama that's unfolding in front of you, and the magnificent performances that strike the perfect balance between stage and screen.

Ian Holm as Richard III is a joy, as are David Warner and Donald Sinden and everybody else in this astounding cast. My favourite remains Peggy Ashcroft as the lethal Queen Margaret, who mines every last nugget of pure gold from the role. Unforgettable as downtrodden Barbie in 'The Jewel in the Crown' here - in a totally different guise - she is a grande dame of classical theatre, full of venom and sound and fury - and the Bard would have been delighted.

For an incredibly reasonable price, you have three DVDs containing one hell of a lot of Shakespeare, performed in a way that for once puts the actor's ego on the back burner, and concentrates firmly on these wonderful plays.

Top marks all round. Can't say fairer than that!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
The presentation and acting are all excellent but what keeps this from a 5-star is the lack of QC. The first DVD, marked as "disc 1" is actually the second disc. And so on. Happily the third is actually the first. Ian Holm is probably the most subtle Richard yet. He chews no scenery but an eyebrow can convey a lot. Aside from the disc numbering, the set is highly recommended.

Now, can the BBC bring to DVD the 1964 telecast of "Comedy of Errors" with Diana Rigg? That's one of my earliest memories of watching Shakespeare and thought it a delight.
22 Comments| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 19 September 2017
excellent service and product
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 1 May 2016
I can't remember who said, about fans of Shakespeare, that "if you get them young then you've got them for life", but it was certainly true in my case.
As a young teenager, it was the first time I had seen Shakespeare performed. I, like many others at that time, was being subjected to the tedious and unexciting dissection of Shakespeare text by a well-meaning teacher. I couldn't get it. There was no context- a great story (Macbeth it was) but the language....! And then I watched this gem on TV. I was transfixed. I was inspired. I got it!.. It sparked my life long passion for the Bard. I can't wait to see it again. Thanks BBC.
11 Comment| 24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 25 October 2011
This DVD gives a solid overview of the causes of the Wars of the Roses, the major engagements and the political allegiances, through to their conclusion at the Battle of Bosworth. It opens at the Battle of Towton memorial, a surprisingly little known battle given that it was the bloodiest battle fought on British soil, before tracing the origin of the conflict back to the sons of Edward III and the deposing of Richard II by Henry IV. It is historically very solid and provides an interesting summary of overview of the conflict, the main documentary lasting over two hours, with a supplementary looking at the evidence of the conflict at Towton provided by remains from the Towton graves. Much of the story is told through an interview format with two historians describing the key events.

The good points of the DVD are that it is about as well told and easy to follow as it is likely possible to make given the complexity of the conflict and the number of key players involved. It also brings out well the brutal nature of the warfare through examination of the injuries sustained through examination of skeletal remains, and the scenes where the weapons used in hand-to-hand combat are described and the techniques in their usage shown are well done. The only criticisms are that the format is a little dry and unexciting in places, especially parts of the historian interview segments, and there are some dramatisations which are filmed in a very hazy manner (actually at first I thought the TV had developed a fault!).

However, already a very solid and detailed documentary - a useful revision aid or for someone with a keen interest in the conflict.
0Comment| 109 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 18 June 2016
In these days when any TV programme can be recorded at the touch of a button and many stage performances are streamed live worldwide and then issued commercially, it's easy to take for granted just how universal our continued access to broadcast entertainment has become. It is, though, a fairly recent phenomenon, kicked off by the introduction of home video recorders in the late 1970s.

As another teenager who saw some of this trilogy on TV (and the concurrent 'Henry V' live on stage) in the mid-1960s, I would have loved to have had a permanent record of this there and then, so I could hardly believe it when the advanced notice of this flashed up on my screen. Since there'd been no mention or sight of it for decades, I assumed that it had been wiped - until some isolated sections turned up recently on the BBC Shakespeare website: even then there were no inklings there of an imminent complete release.

The then but recently-formed RSC had immediately launched itself into a golden period, with a string of productions still considered classics - including an 'As You Like It' with Vanessa Redgrave, a 'Hamlet' with David Warner and this epic conflation of Shakespeare's 'Henry VI' plays with 'Richard III'. Despite the fact that big names have already been mentioned, one of the lasting effects of the RSC's creation has been the democratisation of Shakespeare productions.This is very much a company effort: a fantastic cast, with Peggy Ashcroft, David Warner and Ian Holm just the first among many equals. No elaborate sets with long scene changes, either, but a single multi-purpose environment, and an integrated use of live music - a fantastic score by the company's long-time resident composer, Guy Woolfenden.

It's a prime example of the RSC's work of the period, where the poetry is important, but the story-telling is given equal weight, with, in this case, a great sense of desperate times forcing desperate measures. It could be seen as the spearhead of the campaign to return to the production ethos of Shakespeare's own time which would eventually lead to the establishment and continuing success of Shakespeare's Globe.

The TV realisation is powerfully theatrical, but not at all stagey, taking advantage of the cameras' mobility to permit intimate close-ups for monologues, as well as a wider angle presentation of the bigger moments. The fact that it's in black and white strengthens rather than diminishes its impact.

We've only recently had the BBC's latest take on the same plays,The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses [DVD] [2015] very filmic and impressive, but this is a rather gutsier and immediate approach, where the claustrophobic enclosed set keeps matters firmly focussed, and the cumulative dramatic sweep of the tale is altogether stronger. Although it's a production of its time, it's hardly dated, to the point where it would probably still be a critical success and a sell-out were it to be revived live today.

In its time, this was a seminal event in British theatre, shared then with a wider audience through the medium of television, and now made available half a century on for a new and potentially far greater audience. I'm writing ahead of its release, but what I've seen on the BBC's website suggests that the transfer has been successfully managed. Highly recommended as a milestone in British theatrical and television history, and essential viewing for admirers of superlative acting and Shakespeare in general.
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 18 October 2011
A good dvd of the Wars of the Roses - a complex tale told reasonably well with input from historians and some modern re-enactors to give a flavour and insight into the period. Though the dvd is a couple of hours long the story gives the bare bones of the story and if you enjoy the documentary then definitely pursue some of the books(Alison Weir is a decent and readable author who has written some good books on the subject)as this period of history is fascinating for its Machievellian twists and tales. The big highlight for me is the one and only extra which is entitled Towton Graves and looks at the skeletons of some of the warriors who were slain in the Battle of Towton(Not though the Secrets of the Dead film that told a similar story but well worth having). On the whole the best Warsof the Roses dvd out there until HBO do an accurate and faithful retelling some time soon...(I hope)
0Comment| 38 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 18 September 2016
You have to have some arrogance to rewrite Shakespeare. When condensing the Henry Vis into two plays, which is all too common, some licence is allowed for continuity and aids to understanding, but for Peter Hall’s famous 1963-4 production John Barton took liberties which were sheer self-indulgence. While these were usually of use when streamlining the plot, too often they were extraneous to the original and jarred with Shakespeare’s own words. Barton occasionally has the temerity to invent minor subplots of his own!
Admittedly, the first part of Henry VI is not rich in poetry but then this was most likely Shakespeare’s earliest play and (like the rest of the history cycle) based on an earlier work. While many of these old plays are extant, the Henry VIs are not and were possibly works of Greene, who later moaned about the young playwright being ‘wrapped in a tiger’s hide’ and writing ‘every Shake-scene’ in the country. While critics complain about the first part’s wooden style it may be seen as juvenile apprentice work. Certainly the four plays – 1,2,3 Henry VI and Richard III – are closely connected and rise in power until we reach the masterly Richard III which begins immediately after the close of 3 Henry VI.
Television had already broadcast the same cycle in The Age Of Kings, but for the theatre the production was ground-breaking and resurrected the dusty old play. Apart from liberties with the text the production garnered rave reviews, so much so that a TV version (filmed in the Stratford theatre) was a must. This was David Warner’s first major part and he made a marvellous job of fleshing out Henry’s pious, weak and wavering character. In part one he portrays a big-hearted, peace-loving, angst-ridden adolescent, torn by the constant warring between his counsellors Beaufort and Gloucester. Nicholas Selby grimaces and menaces his way through Beaufort’s part with almost comical villainy while Paul Hardwick plays the honest lord encircle with wolves with great reserve. Meanwhile, over in France, Joan of Arc takes advantage of the factions by encouraging the King to success after success. Janet Suzman gives a gutsy performance as ‘one of the lads’ until she is finally taken and burned as the witch she most certainly is in this drama. Another highlight is Donald Sinden, whose York makes several wonderful asides to the camera. The first part ends with Henry bemoaning the fact that future generations would ‘curse his wretched reign’.
In Part 2, called ‘Edward IV’ here, Warner’s Henry has grown up and the actor beautifully balances the experience of kingship and loss of adolescence with the constant indecision and wavering of the king. One of the highlights of this piece of savaged text is Margaret and this production shows why Peggy Ashcroft is one of the great dames of English theatre. Her performance is of incredible depths and she throws off the ambitious princess of Part One to become the determined queen whose ruthlessness is sometimes staggering. Both Sinden and Ashcroft make the death scene of York memorable. Ian Holm takes on the part of Richard III and after the stabbing of Henry in the tower he shows he can master the sly, villainous character with an understated menace but can explode in rage on cue. Roy Dotrice doubles as the loathsome Jack Cade and a laughing, careless Edward. Margaret is banished and the scene is set for the better-known Richard III.
Ian Holm purposely downplayed the lead part to ensure that Richard does not become a mere character and while he delved deep into the part to give an intelligent portrayal, it misses the presence and sheer weight of the part. Ashcroft again excels as Margaret, now reduced to a banning, furious witch who acts as a chorus as the murder and mayhem ensues. William Squire, better known as Hunter in the ‘Callan’ series, shakes off the part of Suffolk and, as Buckingham, makes an excellent foil for Richard’s manoeuvrings. The sadly underused Eric Porter has a small but definitive role as Richmond and makes more of the part than anyone else I’ve seen.
In the end, there is much to criticise in this production but even more to admire. As a landmark performance it deserved to be persevered on film. Although some argue that the black-and-white lends a great deal of atmosphere to the viewing, the quality is not of the best and it looks necessarily dated. But to watch a seldom-acted play – and to enjoy the powerhouse performances of Sinden, Ashcroft, Holm and other British acting greats – this is not to be missed.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 12 October 2013
Arrived dead on the promised delivery in good order & very satisfied. Would recommend to others.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)