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The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 2, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 2, BBC Two

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 2, BBC Two

Irons's ailing king steals Shakespearean diptych

The once and future king: Tom Hiddleston's Henry-V-to-be and his entourageJoss Barratt

One intends no discredit to the keenly judged monarch-to-be that is Tom Hiddleston's Prince Hal, who will reappear on the small screen next weekend carrying the story forward in Henry V, to point out that Richard Eyre's terrific BBC adaptation of Henry IV Part 2 was stolen by dad.

Playing the ailing King Henry who will not go gently into the good night, Jeremy Irons gave a performance of equal parts fury and passion that ranks with this actor's very best. Can someone not accommodate Irons once more on the classical stage, and soon?

Jeremy Irons as the ailing Henry IVIt's tempting to think of both halves of the Henry IV duo as defined by the shifting dynamics of Hal and Falstaff, the latter the comrade-in-fun who represents all the life-enhancing appetites unbeknownst to Hal's own father, who exists at a formal and severe remove from his son. But playing a Henry IV who won't surrender the throne until required by ill health and even then lets hurl with apoplectic rage, Irons (pictured above) triumphed in one of those Bardic supporting assignments (Gloucester in King Lear is another) that can sometimes overtake the leads: David Bradley was a (deserved) 2006 Olivier Award nominee for the same role in a National Theatre staging that starred Michael Gambon as a particularly slovenly Falstaff. 

Irons didn't only register at moments of temper. The actor found a shimmering poetry in Henry's lengthy meditation on sleep (the passage that ends, famously, with "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown") and cut a moving, hollow-eyed presence: the ruler's body seen giving way even as his capacity for remonstration would not. Irons's melancholia helped fuel a play that, by contrast with its immediate predecessor, remains considerably more brooding and anxious, not least when set against the earlier high spirits and hijinks of Hal and co. 

Bamber as ShallowPart Two contains characters not found in the first play, among them the wryly comic yet poignant double-act of the justices Silence and Shallow; David Bamber (pictured left), aged up well beyond his years, broughty a flinty wit to the latter's ruminations on mortality ("death is certain to all; all shall die") while reminding us of his own glory days during Eyre's National tenure in plays like David Hare's Racing Demon. Theatre buffs will have had particular fun across Eyre's amply cast duo of films playing "spot the National alum" amidst an ensemble that scarcely put a foot wrong, even if Adam Kotz's fleetingly glimpsed Hastings made one wonder where this fine actor has been since his own contribution to Hare's widely fêted play about the Anglican church.

Which leaves Hal and Falstaff, who are separated for much of the action only to face off in as rending a climax as the canon knows. More evocative than ever of a Shakespearean Santa Claus, with his flowing beard and florid persona to match, Russell Beale jettisoned all camp to chart the abidingly chilling brusqueness with which that fantasist Falstaff is rejected by his erstwhile best mate. And as an incipient warrior-king forced to call time on his wayward past, Hiddleston showed the carefree Hal of old dampening down his bonhomie in anticipation of far bigger tasks ahead. Once more unto the breach, indeed, as The Hollow Crown series of TV Shakespeares hurtles toward its close. 

Irons cut a moving, hollow-eyed presence: the ruler's body seen giving way even as his capacity for remonstration would not

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