HENRY V by William Shakespeare directed by Thea Sharrock (BBC Two)
So there we have it. Shakespeare’s TV tetralogy (a word I have never knowingly used before) is complete.
This quartet of the bard’s history plays have triumphantly brought the very best of the British theatrical tradition to the small screen and for this we should be truly thankful.Any accusations of the BBC dumbing down its drama will have to put on hold for a few years at least.
The Henrys (IV + V) were directed in a more traditional manner but , aside from the flop of Falstaff, they have provided a master class in acting. Richard II was the boldest and most cinematic of the four which is why it remains the highlight of the series for me.
In Henry V, Tom Hiddleston cuts a dash in a leather bomber jacket. Not for him the burden of regal regalia as he defies the “confident and lusty French” and leads his not particularly merry “band of brothers” to win the Battle of Agincourt against all the odds.
As King, he has to deliver the mother of all motivational speeches to transform his war worn soldiers into a winning team. This he does with a heavy heart rather than with a jingoistic fury.
Director Sharrock doesn’t seem interested in this being a celebration of bloodshed but prefers to interpret the play as a meditation on warfare. With more muted tones than Olivier of Branagh, Hiddleston’s Henry draws his courage from his faith in God and his being a noble cause. Bowing to a higher being means that he is not simply a rabid fighter but one who believes that the “gentlest gamester is the scariest winner”.
That said, the ferocity of the battle remain the plays centrepiece and make the cringe-worthy scenes of the King of France’s daughter Katherine (Kate) learning English and her being wooed by Henry all the more tortuous.
If this were Hollywood, Henry would have gone on live a long life as a benevolent king with a happy breed of bonny heirs.
History was not so kind. After defying certain death on the battlefield he contracted dysentery and died at the age of 36.
Life’s a bitch sometimes! So much for the protective hand of God!