Last week I watched BBC’s ‘The Hollow Crown‘, which has (re)kindled a keen interest in both Shakespeare and English Royal history.
‘The Hollow Crown‘ is a series of four movies based on Shakespeare’s plays ‘Richard II’, ‘Henry IV part 1’, ‘Henry IV part 2’ and ‘Henry V’, collectively known as the ‘Henriad’. As much as I usually enjoy historical dramas, and Shakespeare’s stories, I find that film adaptations of his plays in the original verse forms and old language are difficult to follow. With that in mind, it was really my interest in the outrageously talented Tom Hiddleston that initially caused me to watch them – and as such, I began by watching ‘Henry IV part 1’, which is the second film in the series.
After watching the three Henry titles, I can only maintain that Hiddleston, as you will (or should) have seen as Loki in ‘Thor‘ and ‘The Avengers‘ (and should see in ‘The Deep Blue Sea‘),who here portrays Henry V (the son of Henry IV), is pure talent. He has, as far as I’m aware, been trained in the classics at Eton, and somebody did something right in training him, because he completely owns the genre. As impressive and acknowledged as Jeremy Irons (Henry IV) is, there’s something about the way Hiddleston delivers an expired language and occasionally pompous speeches in a remarkably natural way. I was absolutely blown away, and recommend the Henry films heartily. I watched ‘Richard II‘ last, and whether because it lacks Hiddleston, because it’s in rhyming verse (and therefore more difficult to deliver naturalistically) or simply because there is another director, I found this to be the least engaging of the four films.
Since finishing the series, I’ve decided to make an attempt to read some of Shakespeare’s plays. I know several of them through various theatre or movie adaptations, and I’ve always enjoyed his stories, but I’ve rarely attempted reading them. As proficient as I may be at reading English, I have to admit that I find it difficult to read Shakespearian English, and I lose my concentration easily while attempting to grasp it. However, hearing the dialogue performed as it was in the Henry films has encouraged me to think that it doesn’t have to feel all distant and difficult. Thanks, Mr Hiddleston!
The other consequence of watching ‘The Hollow Crown‘ is that I have frequently found myself spending considerable amounts of time on Wikipedia reading up on English medieval kings and queens. When you have real stories like these, really, who needs to make stuff up. Whilst reading I came across the name Tudor, which I was previously unfamiliar with except as a title of a TV series. It turns out that five (disputedly six) rulers of the English throne, from Henry VII through to Elizabeth I, were of the Tudor family. Needless to say, I got hold of the TV series and have now watched through the first of in all four seasons.
‘The Tudors‘ (2007-2010) is based on historical events and follows Henry VIII (played by an excellent Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the charismatic king notorious for his many wives and their unfortunate fates. Season one deals with the king’s introduction to miss Anne Boleyn and his persistent struggle with the Roman church to force through a divorce with his wife Queen Catherine in order to be with her. All the while there are intrigues and conspiracies on all sides, as the people of the royal courts struggle for power and influence.
The costumes alone makes this show worth watching, but the show is clever and interesting and full of great acting performances. Sam Neill posesses a truly engaging role as the dubious Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, while Jeremy Northam is unnerving as Sir Thomas More, the idealist and adamant lawyer who is appointed Lord Chancellor and given the task to deal with the “blasphemous” religious uprising spurred on by Martin Luther.
Please ignore the horrible, cheesy voiceover; this really is a good show:
Which is your favourite film adaptation of a Shakespeare play?