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WILL AND ME: The Hollow Crown (2012) Review
THE HOLLOW CROWN (2012) REVIEW:
CAST: Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear, Clémence Poésy, David Suchet, David Morrissey, Sir Patrick Stewart, James Purefoy, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Alun Armstrong, David Hayman, Joe Armstrong, Mélanie Thierry, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Lambert Wilson, Geraldine Chaplin, Edward Akrout.
Directors—Rupert Goold (Richard II); Sir Richard Eyre (Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2); Thea Sharrock (Henry V)
Producers— Rupert Ryle-Hodges, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris
Writers—William Shakespeare; adaptations by Rupert Goold, Ben Power and Sir Richard Eyre.
Shakespeare the television series….a concept that’s as old as time itself….
For as long that television has been around, there have been numerous adaptations of the bard’s work that were given the privilege of being produced as serial or miniseries, giving the works an accessible and mainstream edge to them. There was the BBC Television Shakespeare series that ran from 1978 to 1985 for seven seasons; there was The Animated Shakespeare series of 1992 and 1994; there was even the modernized miniseries called ShakespeaRe-Told that was aired in 2005! But compared to his tragedies and comedies, it was always his histories that were adapted the most. Beginning with An Age of Kings in 1960, serializing the playwright’s ever popular interpretation of the War of the Roses saga, the stories of kings going to war and being assassinated by their friends or family apparently brings in a bigger crowed than a television adaptation of Romeo and Juliet or something.
The Hollow Crown is the most recent television series to be adapted from Shakespeare’s history plays, telling the (highly romanticised) story of how Elizabeth I’s great-great grandparents got into power.
In episode one (Richard II, directed by Rupert Goold and adapted by the director himself and frequent collaborator, Ben Power), the vain and foolish Richard the Second (Ben Whishaw) initiates his downfall by banishing Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) and the Earl of Mowbray (James Purefoy) as a resolution to their feud and then confiscating the lands of his uncle, Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart), on John's death, to pay for a war in Ireland which he loses. This angers many courtiers, including the Duke of York (David Suchet), who welcomes Bolingbroke back to England and executes Richard's flatterers. The king himself is soon taken prisoner and meets a haunting downfall.
Then, in episode two and three (Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, directed and adapted by Sir Richard Eyre), the heir to the throne, Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston), defies his father, Henry the Fourth (formerly known as Henry Bolingbroke, now played by Jeremy Irons), by spending his time at the local tavern in the company of the dissolute Sir John Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale) and his companions. The King is threatened by a rebellion led by Hal’s rival, Hotspur (Joe Armstrong) and Hotspur’s family. In the face of this danger to the kingdom, Hal joins his father to defeat the rebels at the Battle of Shrewsbury and fights against their enemies in a bloody battle.
And in the fourth and final episode (Henry V, directed by Thea Sharrock and adapted by Ben Power) the now matured Hal (now known as Henry the Fifth) has settled onto the throne and has the makings of a fine King. However, the French ambassador brings a challenge from the French Dauphin, based around the mockery the French give regarding the king’s former reputation as a drunken hell raiser. Inspired by his courtiers, the newly crowned Henry the Fifth swears that he will, with all force, answer this challenge and prove them wrong for having that opinion of his former self. The French take Henry’s claims seriously and challenge the English army to battle at Agincourt.
With a collection of epics plays and the money to film on location like a blockbuster feature film, does this series fall into the category of good quality television?
Looking at the episodes individually, this is my answer: “No, no, no and yes.”
The first three episodes are massive disappointments! Richard II did have its fair share of good direction, colourful atmosphere and brilliant acting from Rory Kinnear and James Purefoy, but everything else is nothing but embarrassment after embarrassment: Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of Richard II is juicily creepy and psychotic, but his performance is also robotic and dull (and you can’t help but to wonder how the f**k could he not see how idiotic he sounds when doing his Marc Warren impression); Patrick Stewart’s performance as John of Gaunt clearly tells the story of an actor who woke up one morning and said “You know what? I’m not going to bother putting an effort into my acting today because I’m Patrick Stewart, goddammit”; the incidental music for the production was just annoying and overdramatic (it’s that over the top that the critics who said the music was over the top in the 2013 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet will be giving the film an apology if they see this train wreck); the moments of gore is random and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series; the adaptation of the text is clunky, poorly interpreted, and leaves out too much; and the wasting and underuse of the talents of David Suchet and Clémence Poésy is the saddest thing you can ever see in your life!
In Henry IV, the situation doesn’t get any better: The production designs and costumes are well-thought out, the battle scenes are tensely entertaining, the acting of Simon Russell Beale as Sir John Falstaff is outstanding (though the character is depressingly downplayed), and the performances of Tom Hiddleston, Alun Armstrong, Julia Walters and other cast members fitted perfectly into their roles like a glove; but Richard Eyre’s direction and scriptwriting is as dull as watching a shoe do stand-up, the acting from Jeremy Anti-Stratfordian Irons as King Henry the Fourth just puts you to sleep, and the balding hair style of Prince Hal is something that I can only be described as the king of all sighing and eye-rolling moments you can see on your screens (especially that the character is supposed to be in his youth when this story begins). When you watch the second and third episodes of Hollow Crown, you would swear that both Jeremy Irons and Richard Eyre gotten bitten by the same bug that bit Patrick Stewart, making them wake up in the morning saying “We’re not going to put an effort in our jobs today, because we’re Jeremy Irons and Richard Eyre, goddammit!” These two episodes of the series just butchers the original play in many ways, something that you never thought you’d feel when watching something directed by a great Shakespearean director like Richard Eyre. (But, there’s a first time for everything, I guess.)
The only time that this series ever shows some start-to-finish entertainment value and any sign of perfection is in the fourth episode, Henry V, where Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Hal continues to get better, the script is well adapted, the direction is epic, the overall look of the episode becomes a character in its self, and the action sequences will get anyone’s blood pumping. This episode alone is the only time where one’s expectations are met, but at the same time, makes one mourn for the fact that the previous three episodes should’ve been like this than what they are now. You can’t help but feel that Thea Sharrock and Ben Power have been underused when they clearly could have made the series much better if they were allowed to be in charge of ALL of the episodes! But, I guess we have no choice but to sit back and shed a tear for missed opportunities.
However….despite its brilliance, the episode still does have a few flaws (like anything that goes on to be classic. Whether it be Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Toy Story or a good marriage, everything still has one or two annoying things about them, but we can’t help but to love them anyway). The things that I found poorly done in this episode was the inclusion of The Chorus/Narrator (a character that was neve present in any of the other the episodes; I don’t see what was wrong with just modifying the character’s dialogue so that they are said by an onscreen character); the obviously copycat filmmaking style trying to mimic Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in regards of cinematography, choice of location and some aspects of Thea Sharrock’s direction; and the inclusion of the always random scene between Catherine of France (Mélanie Thierry) and her nurse (played by the always hideous Geraldine Chaplin) where the entire scene is spoken in French without a translation and any reason to be in the story (something that was something Branagh got wrong in his version as well!) Seriously, why does anyone even include that scene when we have no idea if it’s relevant to the story or not? Unless someone actually takes the time to translate the French phrases into English so we have a clue what’s being said, why should it be necessary to leave it in? If you can trim down some of the bard’s text, I’m sure you can get rid of a scene that becomes a major plot hole since none of the other French characters ever speak in their own language, even when they’re just speaking to each other. (It’s commons sense people!)
All in all, The Hollow Crown is not a great series. With the exception of Henry V, it is dull, poorly directed, poorly adapted and poorly acted for the most part. (And yet, they still think necessary to make a second series, adapting the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. Even though Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Richard III in the second series, I still don’t have high hopes for it. Only someone who never saw a Shakespeare film before will consider it a work of genius! Sigh….)