As much as I appreciate Shakespeare, I’m not keen on his historical plays. Maybe one has to be British to embrace the life and times of former sovereigns. Then again I’m not favored towards American leaders foregoing productions about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the crew. Lincoln, I would probably watch.
And so, hearing there is a contemporary production of the Richards and the Henrys featuring favorite actors ranging from David Suchet to Jeremy Irons to Tom Huddleston to Ben Whishaw, I am intrigued and ready to binge some Bard.
Richard II features Ben Whishaw and he cavorts with the style and aplomb of a rock star. Production notes indicate Michael Jackson was suggested inspiration. Whishaw deservedly earned his accolades for his performance as he drifts between petulance and dedicated sovereignty. The cinematography rivals that of big screen artistry, bringing a dimension to the play that a stage production never could. An absolutely riveting introduction to the series.
Next up is Prince Hal played by Tom Hiddleston, around the time he began his Avengers role as Loki. Hiddleston brings the winsome bad boy pluck that he channels in Loki to the role of heir apparent. He cavorts in taverns with thieves and prostitutes instead of winning fame and glory on the battlefield. Hal gives his dad King Henry IV, played exceedingly well by Jeremy Irons, ulcers of shame.
Part One focuses on how Prince Hal is slumming around with Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s more endearing anti-heroes played with vamp and veer by Simon Russell Beal. A notoriously likable scoundrel, Falstaff nearly ruins Prince Hal, who fortunately realizes he needs to shed the scalawag before he becomes king.
Part Two witnesses the coming of age of a wayward son into prince realizing his duties to crown and country. Stellar performances from all. Tom Hiddleston’s rejection of Falstaff is especially noteworthy as he coldly belays the sly knight’s claim upon him, breaking the old man’s heart, while stepping up to the role of honor required of him.
Henry V fortunately continues with Tom Hiddleston as king. Viewers see his growth as an impetuous swaggering tavern trawler to a victorious warrior whose Crispin Day speech incites tears as it is lovingly and personally delivered to individual soldiers under his command. This king can shout when he has to but can also project tenderness and caring to a peasant conscripted to fighting a war he does not comprehend. His death as a ruler came much too soon.
Each segment features a different director which brings a freshness and varying perspective to each play. The only hindrance is the lack of continuity of actors from part one to part two since Rory Kinnear is very different from Jeremy Irons in looks and acting style, as king, as are the other characters. It was indeed a bonus to have Hiddleston continue as Henry V.
Once again it is proven that Shakespeare is not of an age but for all time as this production proves the Bard is far from boring.