Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2 is the tale of two kings and one fat bloke.

The outsize guy is Sir John Falstaff. It’s not clear how he got that knighthood as he looks like a man more devoted to big meals than good works. He is also given to bawdy deeds and to being what Prince Hal poetically refers to as “the feeder of my riots”.

Falstaff’s anarchic, irreverent wit is remarked upon by many but is never made manifest in this TV production directed by Richard Eyre. Simon Russell Beale is hopelessly miscast in this role as he is not the jolly jester he surely should be.

Fortunately the kings provide more than adequate compensation.

The star of this production is without question Jeremy Irons as the fading King Henry IV. Irons has a beautifully resonant speaking voice and he uses this to bring great dignity to this part.  His majestic performance reaches a peak when delivering the speech which concludes with the famous line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” and begins with these melancholy reflections on his insomnia:

“How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”

Playing second fiddle, yet also impressive in his own right, is Tom Hiddleston as the future Henry V.

Hiddleston was striking as the evil Loki in Thor and The Avengers but here has to play a more complex role as one who changes from an irresponsible Prince to a dependable monarch. Managing to be both dashingly handsome and vulnerable is no easy feat but he pulls this off and he has the look of an actor with the huge potential for greatness in future roles on stage and screen.

As a reformed character, Hal/Henry asks his followers to “presume not that I was the thing that was”. In disowning Falstaff he proves he is as good as his word and gives one more reason to look forward to Henry V – the fourth and final part of the Henriad.

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