Henry V

[aka 'The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France']
(1948)

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St CRISPINS DAY


Director:                   Laurence Olivier
Producers:               Dallas Bower
                                  Filippo Del Giudice
                                  Laurence Olivier
                                  Herbert Smith
Script:                       Dallas Bower
                                  Alan Dent
                                  Laurence Olivier
                                  From the play by William Shakespeare
Music:                       William Walton

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No doubt Laurence Olivier must have been real proud of this project. It's really 'his' movie, since he directed, produced as well as played the main lead. It actually earned him a special Honorary Award during that year's Academy Awards 'for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing 'Henry V' to the screen'.

‘Henry V’ has been the subject of two of the greatest cinematic Shakespeare adaptations. One reason is that it contains some of Shakespeare's most magnificent poetry and some of his greatest set-piece speeches, mostly put into the mouth of Henry himself. It is therefore a very tempting role for Shakespearean actors, especially those who can speak blank verse as naturally as Olivier. Few actors since in the 1940's can translate Shakespeare effectively with the possibel exceptions of Jacobi, Gielgud and Branagh.

The two films are very different in style. Branagh's naturalistic film emphasises the bloodshed and squalor of war; contrary to what is sometimes thought, mediaeval warfare was not necessarily more chivalrous, or even less bloody, than the modern version. Olivier's film is highly stylised rather than naturalistic. Perhaps the most distinctive element of this production is the use of the Globe Theatre as a framing device, in conjunction and coupled with a quite deliberate deployment of obviously artificial scenery and perspective. . The rationale was no doubt wartime economics, but the decision to make virtue of necessity and create a deliberate look (that echoes -- yet is not the same as -- the staging at the Globe: witness the street-scene at the inn and then the 'real' version of it) is one that is more or less unique in my experience, and is an inspired choice

Olivier's film - the first which he directed- was commissioned by the British Government as a patriotic morale -booster during the Second World War. The decision to portray war as something glorious rather than bloody was therefore a quite deliberate one. A sharp contrast is drawn between the heroic Henry and his French counterparts. Those parts of Shakespeare's play which show Henry in a less favourable light, such as his order to kill the French prisoners, are omitted, apparently on the instructions of Churchill, who did not want the film's patriotic message to be clouded by moral ambiguities. The French King, Charles VI, is portrayed as a senile old fool, and his son the Dauphin Louis as not only an arrogant popinjay but also a sadistic brute who slaughters non-combatants such as the young boys in the English baggage train. Stress is placed on those scenes which show the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish captains fighting together against a common enemy. (Shakespeare was probably looking ahead to the unification of the English and Scottish crowns under James I and VI, which was to take place a few years after his play was written; it is perhaps no accident that the Scottish captain is called Jamie).


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           

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Henry V