thu 18/10/2018

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Henry VI Part 1, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Henry VI Part 1, BBC Two

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Henry VI Part 1, BBC Two

A black storm rises in the court of the English king

Killer queen: Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou and Tom Sturridge as Henry VI

Allegedly one of the worst plays Shakespeare wrote (which he may have done in cahoots with Thomas Nashe), the first part of Henry VI emerged victorious from this TV adaptation. Whereas one might think twice about chopping and rejigging Hamlet or King Lear, director and co-adapter Dominic Cooke had applied some muscular compressing and reshaping which meant that the piece gathered pace steadily, and was thundering ahead at full steam by the time it hit the final credits.

Mind you, it wasn't strictly Henry VI Part 1, since some of the later scenes (most notably the harrowing denunciation and death of Hugh Bonneville's Gloucester) had been wheeled in from Part 2. Also, for dramatic purposes, Suffolk (Jason Watkins) had been scaled down a bit, while Ben Miles's cold, sneering Somerset had been placed on a harshly lit plinth as Top Villain.

In the fine Hollow Crown tradition, the action was set in convincing naturalistic locations while still retaining the internal coherence of the stage play(s). Thus, the battle scenes in France were physical and bloody enough to feel compellingly immersive without trying to delude you that this was a Hollywood movie, and the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc – depicted as a delusional, bloodthirsty psychopath – was nicely judged to be only as horrific as it needed to be.

All this dovetailed elegantly with a smartly cast group of actors capable of delivering Shakespeare's lines with an easy transparency which allowed you to forget they were 400 years old, give or take the occasional bit of subtle viewer-friendly "improvement". Any hint of Mumblegate-style obfuscation had been ruthlessly weeded out, with bell-like diction the order of the day. It was particularly pleasing to see that many of the actors handling Shakespeare with such aplomb weren't the usual Bardic suspects. Phil Glenister rolled up his sleeves and stormed the barricades as Talbot, Stanley Townsend comfortably dominated the scenery as the bewhiskered Warwick, Sally Hawkins brought raw anguish to her portrayal of the betrayed Eleanor, and Laura Frances-Morgan lent Joan of Arc (pictured above) an unsettling aura of deranged weirdness.  

Meanwhile, at front and centre, the groundwork for the forthcoming horrors of the Wars of the Roses was being laid. It made you wince to see poor Henry VI (Tom Sturridge, another Shakespeare newbie), a well-meaning but weak and indecisive shoegazer type, being battered between the rival power factions, too naive to realise the implications of picking up Somerset's red rose and not the white one brandished by Adrian Dunbar's Plantagenet. His solution to the pair's simmering resentment and dynastic ambitions boiled down to telling them to play nice together. (Pictured above: Hugh Bonneville, Philip Glenister, Adrian Dunbar and Stanley Townsend)

While Samuel West oozed conspiratorial toxins as the Bishop of Winchester, the darkness at the heart of Henry's court was mercilessly stirred by his French queen Margaret (Sophie Okonedo), cynically manipulating the power-crazed players round the chessboard with contempt, bogus remorse or sexual calculation, as the moment demanded. Hugh Bonneville's beautifully drawn Gloucester towered over them as a man of authentic character and stature, but in this piranha tank that was never going to be enough. The final image, a premonitory glimpse of the future Richard Crouchback, was a masterly touch. 

Hugh Bonneville's Gloucester towered over them as a man of character and stature, but in this piranha tank that was never going to be enough

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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