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Henry IV Part I

We watched the next in the Beeb's current Shakespeare season in two goes over Sunday and Monday nights, and I felt that although enjoyable and dramatic - the tavern and battle scenes particularly well staged - it didn't quite grab me in the same way that Richard II did.

steepholm has crystallised the problem for me. The production allowed Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff to dominate proceedings, which fundamentally unbalanced the play; it became a star vehicle rather than a historical drama. He is a powerful actor, and is good here; I was blown away by his Leontes in The Winter's Tale which I was lucky enough to see on stage a few years ago, but genius sometimes needs discipline as well.

Of the other leads, a lot of Hotspur's material was cut (I think two or three entire scenes from Act 4), though I actually felt that Joe Armstrong was more impressive in the role than either Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal or the curiously subdued Jeremy Irons as the King. (And it was a nice touch to cast Armstrong's real father Alun as his stage father Northumberland.) Michelle Dockery seemed to be phoning in her lines as Lady Hotspur much as she did in Hogfather. Let's hope for better luck next weekend with H4P2.

Incidentally we watched the first ever episode of Black Adder last night with young F, who tolerated us explaining the Shakespeare jokes to him. It was first broadcast 29 years ago.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2012 09:10 am (UTC)
This play doesn't really have a single hero: Hotspur, Falstaff, and Hal have parts of similar weight, so the director can choose to make it a play "about" any one of them. Wikipedia says, "throughout most of the play's performance history, Hal was staged as a secondary figure, and the stars of the stage, beginning with James Quin and David Garrick often preferred to play Hotspur."

Shakespeare's comedy is always difficult to play, I know, but I still didn't like the way they staged the scenes at the Boar's Head: too much forced merriment and thigh-slapping. The lines are just not funny enough to plausibly lead to the level of hilarity portrayed so unconvincingly by the actors. Maybe more "business" would have helped: in a film you can do things that you can't on stage, like cutting away to show Falstaff hacking up his own sword or whatever.

Also, the battle. It's a lost cause on screen, I suppose, but really: medieval battles did not consist of a charge followed by a mélée. Soldiers advanced and retreated in formations. Pikemen had to stand in close ranks to be effective against cavalry. Archers had to shoot before the two sides came together. And defeated soldiers surrendered or fled and did not stand around waiting to be killed (unless they were physically unable to get away, as at Agincourt or Towton).

Edited at 2012-07-23 04:54 pm (UTC)
Jul. 11th, 2012 06:24 pm (UTC)
The production allowed Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff to dominate proceedings, which fundamentally unbalanced the play; it became a star vehicle rather than a historical drama

But as far as the play is concerned, he IS the dominant character, or certainly was in all of the productions of the time; similarly Falstaff has always been known as one of the 'biggest' comedy roles for a male actor to play. The main point of the play is that it's leading up to Hal becoming King, so the title character is pretty much a background character, Hal (Henry V) is not as prominent yet (the development occurs chiefly in Part II, and then in 'Henry IV'), but Falstaff really is a very central character.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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