Fresh new interpretations of Shakespeare’s infamous and renowned history plays have been adapted byt the BBC and hit history fans by storm. This first season consists of what thespians called the ‘Henriads’ which is Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and Henry V. The season tells the story of England’s Hundred Years War with France from the end of the 14th century to the wake of the Battle Of Agincourt in 1415. Together the quadology, make up a historical enterprise of stories with repeated themes of political intrigue, redemption, patriotism, power, war, family, betrayal.
For me as one native to Britain, it’s a great honour to see the great bard Shakespeare’s history plays performed by many of Britain’s most affluent and talented actors in their prime. This goes from the up and coming stars like Ben Whishaw (Suffragette) to Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager) to more seasoned actors like Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Jeremy Irons (The Borgias) as well as Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery with Sophie Okonedo as Margaret D’Anjou and Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful) as young Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). The first season of The Hollow Crown offers three exceptional lead performances in excellent Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, the frightening Ben Whishaw as Richard II and Jeremy Irons as cold and gruff elder Henry IV. The Henriad plays are the prelude to the Wars Of The Roses.
William Shakespeare’s histories are somewhat less predictable than his tragedies or even comedies, despite being inspired by historical events. I like the more brutal nature to the historical plays as well as the realism and the lack of happy endings. Life isn’t always rosy and sparkly. The Hollow Crown represents that so well, and there are many situations throughout that show even when you win, you lose. There are many parts of The Hollow Crown that imitate life from the loss of loved ones to the feelings of love and happiness as well ruthless pragmatism that is carried out by different characters. The Hollow Crown is one of those hidden gems that seemed to go under the radar of both the Emmys and the Golden Globes. It was nominated by BAFTA yet it wasn’t in mainstream media. It came and went as quickly as the wind. What’s more, this series is so bloody quotable. The Hollow Crown to thespians is what Merlin is to magicians. It’s the pinnacle of its field. Shakespeare comes with this prestige. You say his name and people know exactly what you mean. The guy was a genius. They’re timeless classics, even centuries later.
The Hollow Crown isn’t your average history drama. It’s the epitome of the genre. It tops even the likes of Wolf Hall, The Tudors or even the storytelling of Last Kingdom and History’s Vikings. The battle scenes rival the likes of Game Of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings. They’re more important than your standard drama because there’s so much honesty behind each story. This a flawlessly made history drama with masterclass casting. Truly an excellent adaptation of the Henriad plays with extensive monologues in the Elizabethan tongue yet not incomprehensible to beginners. Amongst all the thees and thous, thou canst interpret what’s being said. I always say, and will continue to say that if you want to see the measure of method acting, watch Shakespeare whether it’s something as bleak as Macbeth or Hamlet to something more mellow like Romeo & Juliet or Twelfth Night.
Out of the four episodes in season one (if you can call them episodes), my favourite has to be Richard II. I say “if you can call them episodes” because they are all two hours or longer. They’re full feature-length movies if anything. Richard II sits at two and half hours. They’re chunky but verily worth the watch. Richard II is unforgettable, purely because Ben Whishaw’s performance. Especially in his last scene when he looks to be slowly going mad as well as his heart-wrenching dramatic monologue. Richard was this angel and now he’s been depicted as this devilish figure. He’s fallen from grace and he’s lost it all. Henry IV and V link up in character story since it’s father and son. Young Henry IV is played by Penny Dreadful’s Rory Kinnear while his elder self is played by Jeremy Irons (Lion King) and Henry V is played by Tom Hiddleston (High Rise) throughout.
The acting of Richard II is otherworldly. Ben Whishaw kills it in the role. Richard is vain, arrogant, narcissistic yet sensitive, kind but weak. Kinnear plays opposite him as this usurper to the throne, truly a righteous man who will ascend the steps as his duty to England. We see as they interact, that with each encounter and interaction, they bring out the best in one another. Another wonderful performance was by the formidable Tom Hiddleston. Prince Harry or Hal as he’s often referred to is a man of the people, much o the dismay of his father. He can often be found at his local pub drinking with the local people. He’s the people’s man. Despite his highborn blood, he resonates with the people and acts as they act. He has a commoner’s spirit. He’s the Jon Snow or Ned Stark of The Hollow Crown; integral, honourable, patriotic yet will bleed for his kingdom and not hide behind his constituents in times of war. He’ll be on the front lines bleeding with them and dying with them if need be. Hiddleston brings the true righteousness of his character to the screen, not only as a king but as man too.
The cast for season one is epic in size as it is in quality. It includes the likes of Patrick Stewart, John Hurt (Harry Potter), Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear, Clémence Poésy (The Tunnel), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and Harry Lloyd (The Theory Of Everything) to name a few. The series is really the best of Britain, young and old. For the casual watchers, it may seem like endless dialogue of gibberish and hogwash but for the fans, it’s a blissful harmony of prose. Whilst watching the show, I was under the BBC’s thumb, unable to escape. It immerses viewers in the world. The modern editing blended with the ancient Shakespearean storytelling is truly excellent. They say “out with old and in with new”. I say “why not both?” You can use the best of both and make something new entirely. That’s what they’ve done with The Hollow Crown. Modern technology blended with old-fashioned storytelling is a recipe for an exceptional literary cinematic cocktail.
Thea Sharrock directed Henry V. Henry V is basically Game Of Thrones’ ‘Battle Of The Bastards’ on crack with the BBC treatment ending with a very Disneyfied conclusion of Harry getting the girl. Though it doesn’t all end in fun and games as the closing scenes are of Henry’s funeral. Anybody who knows anything about British medieval history, knows that Henry died young from a sudden bout of dysentery.
In conclusion, this series shows that power is as real as our belief in it. The crown does not give you power, merely the concept of power. That’s how Richard II lost it to young Henry Bolingbroke. You’re not given power, you take it. The crown is as hollow as an egg shell and this series shows us that kings are just as vulnerable to attack as common men.