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"The Hollow Crown" is BBC's magnificent filming of the Shakespeare's second Henriad (Richard II with Henry IV's rise to power, Henry IV, parts I and II, and Henry V). I believe the first three of these have only been filmed in the old 1970s BBC series of Shakespeare's complete works, and although the old series was at its best with its version of Henry IV, "The Hollow Crown" is far above it. Simon Russell Beale is the ideal choice for Falstaff, even with Orson Welles hard on his heels in the Falstaff compilation "Chimes at Midnight", Tom Hiddleston is a great Prince Hal, and Jeremy Irons, never known to err, shines as the guilt-ridden King Henry IV.

There are some interesting comments on the bonus material for Henry IV, part II that explains why the plays come across so successfully in 2012. Thea Sharrock, director of Henry V, muses that people may be shocked at hearing the actors speak in real surroundings (on location), but of course, that's old hat. Even Olivier anticipated that in 1944 with his Henry V. Moviegoers are not that easily shocked anymore. And although Hiddelston is also mistaken in his claim that it has never been done before, he is right in stating that "Shakespeare is at its best when you speak it like you're making it up." Julie Walters adds, "You've got to speak the lines, not in a stilted isn't-the-verse-beautiful kind of way; it's got to be the way you talk"
This natural way of speaking the lines, more foreign to British Shakespeare productions than to American ones, accounts for the greatness of "The Hollow Crown".
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Compellingly Shakespeare studies in detail the strengths and weaknesses of three consecutive kings. Richard II (Ben Whishaw), led astray by flatterers, learns all too soon "Divine Right" offers no protection when one so alienates. Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) feels doubly insecure - mindful his crown was obtained by force and all may be lost if his pleasure-loving heir continues to cavort with low life. Henry V (Tom Hiddleston) is that wayward prince transformed, previous experiences allowing him the common touch that helps secure glorious victory against France.

Four discs. Four interesting bonuses. Many imaginative touches and much to provoke thought. Ben Whishaw tells how the Histories are amongst the less accessible of Shakespeare's plays, actors thus having to work that little bit harder. A major aim has been to make the magnificent language sound as natural as possible. Film, rather than stage, gives far greater scope for nuances, so much conveyed by subtle expressions. Fascinatingly, characters not featured prominently in print visually now have a major part to play. Take John Hurt's Chorus in "Henry V", for example. (Slight spoiler coming up!) Only at the very end do we learn this old man has been looking back on events witnessed as the page boy we were seeing so often. (By the way, the very start of "Henry V" may unsettle some.)

Throughout, much is superb - full of unexpected touches that add rather than distract. "Richard II" is visually stunning, full of colour to reflect the monarch's extravagant lifestyle. "Henry IV" is generally far more austere, that pivotal battle amidst snow a highlight. "Henry V" has Harry's two traditionally rousing speeches more as asides to those closest around him.

When viewed in quick succession, continuity is greatly helped by Tom Hiddleston being in both "Henry IV" and "Henry V" (by happy chance, as it turns out). Earlier, Rory Kinnear's future Henry IV becomes Jeremy Irons when King, which initially jolts a little. Both actors are superb, but in different ways.

With so much excelling, it may seem unfair to single out just one performance, but Simon Russell Beale's Falstaff may for many prove a lingering memory - especially when all his high hopes, indeed confident expectations, are so devastatingly dashed. Movingly portrayed is the shock from which he will never recover.

Great talents have converged, the result a triumph.

(P.S. Which of the three Kings reigned longest? The answer may surprise you. It certainly did me.)
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I've just finished watching this for the second time, because it just knocked me out the first time. I didn't do any of the Henrys or Richards at school so thought I might struggle, but the brilliant acting throughout made it easy. The costumes, scene setting and attention to detail are phenomenal. Ben Whishaw was brilliant as Richard II, vulnerable, capricious and slightly nutty. I was slightly less enthusiastic about the scenes with Falstaff, but thought Tom Hiddleston absolutely my favourite of the three as Henry V. As I was pretty vague about this period of history I was shocked that he died aged 35 of dysentery. The battle scenes were fantastic, "once more unto the breach," etc, and the exchange between Henry and the soldier who thinks he is an ordinary man and offers to fight him - so well done! Really looking forward now to the next episodes next year. Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III.
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on 22 March 2015
4 wonderful films of Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. Superb settings and beautifully photographed. A real feeling of story continuity running through Henry IV and V with Tom Hiddleston playing both the young Hal and then growing into the role of King. His performance is the outstanding one for me, growing from disruptive lad into the leader king. Ben Whishaw as Richard II and Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff are also brilliant. If you don't buy any other Shakespeare, buy this one!
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on 23 May 2015
In all my years, I never thought I'd be discussing Hiddleton's role as an actor. Helped me with my studies over Shakespeare's Henry V in English Literature. Although these films differ from their predecessors, speaking as a person who had to watch the Henry V film over and over again to analyse his lines, this Henry V is remarkably well thought-out. The narrator has a larger role, becoming the boy in the play, and Henry V is shown as talking to his noblemen more than his countrymen (like in Lawrence's). Whilst Lawrence had a far more financial backing (his has too many extras) and a ridiculous pro-Britain theme surrounding his film due to the war, and Branagh's version is dark and dim in showing Henry's struggles (he includes the scene with the murder of the defenseless English pages at Agincourt), Sharrock is more - and I do hesitate at this - realistic. Although omitted scenes include the slaughter of the young pages, due to BBC policies on children, and the Southampton plot (this one likely due more to timescales and presenting Henry as a fairer King than Branagh), the Harfleur scene is brilliantly done.

Lawrence's version runs dim in comparison, since he, not only omitted Henry speech at Harfleur, but also relied too much on horses (which is not even historically accurate). At Agincourt, Sharrock's Henry is directly associated with his archers by giving them orders and through their clothing (they wear cloths that show England's cross). I've some issues with the French cavalry scene after the Duke of York's death, in which they supposedly regroup, but then that's getting into historical information and not this film. At the risk of boring readers, Henry V of this series is fantastically done. I had the option of selecting any version of Shakespeare's Henry V and, based on that I disliked Lawrence's version and I could not bare to watch Branagh's flash-back scenes, I chose this.
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on 16 December 2015
I really loved this. I'm not English buff but they really made Shakespeare come alive. If you never have a chance to see Shakespeare in the theatre this comes a very close second. It can't quite replicate the atmosphere of the theatre being on the screen but the staging, actors, and everything else manage to paint a fantastic picture all the same.

Sure sometimes you have to concentrate a bit (it's Shakespeare!) to understand but overall I really enjoyed the films.
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on 30 October 2012
Happily I love English (and as a consequence Shakespeare, John Keats, John Milton), and I'm grateful for my best English Teachers (mostly a Californian one: terrible accent)and BBC has thought to Hear Impaired (smart for disable persons and foreigners!).
I adore The Hollow Crown; the crescendo from Richard II to Henry IV and the apotheosis with Henry V (I've seen the version with Kenneth Brannagh)is directed with so much talent, heart, intelligence. The technical crew, the stunts, and the actors serve wonderfully Shakespeare and his works or art.
Special mention to:
Jeremy Irons
Patrick Stewart
Simon Russel Beadle
Tom Hiddleston (I've seen Archipelago: moved out, delicate, utterly)
Ben Whishaw
etc
and the directors Ruppert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock
Thank you very much for having called Clemence Poesy, Melanie Thierry and Lambert Wilson in the Hollow Crown Project.
Atmosphere, climate, light, clothes, all coincidate with 14th century. The photography is excellent, the camera pretty nervous during the battles. All is perfect, a great CHAPEAU BAS to BBC and all the people who have participated and given their best to this sublime work of art. Shakespeare can be very proud and grateful to the team of Hollow Crown.It's just a friend - a French who tells you that.
Thanks to the English subtitles I could enjoyed the flavours of Shakespeare's tongue and the manner of playing of the actors. A unique experience I recommand to French lovers of Shakespeare and the "Perfid Albion". ;-)
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on 26 August 2015
It was a couple a years ago that I saw this series. I instantly liked it a lot. I love Shakespeare, be it book or movie adaptation. Great acting and great stories about Britain`s Kings. Great stuff.
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on 18 August 2017
Yet to see whole series, but so far very good.
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on 17 May 2017
The best production I have seen. Excellent performance and interpretation.
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