Hiddleston’s impresses as Hal but Eyre’s Henry can’t quite match Goold’s Richard

Henry IV part I: The Hollow Crown – BBC 2  / BBC HD

Following the rapturous reception received by Goold’s treatment of Richard II was always going to be a challenge; the highly experienced Richard Eyre was assigned the task of continuing The Hollow Crown through Henry IV parts I and II, and on last night’s offering is set to deliver a textually inventive if slightly visually austere riposte.

Overall The Hollow Crown concept has been left a little exposed – clever and audience-enticing as it may be – as the stylistic dissimilarities mean that, other than the continuation of history, there is little in Henry IV part I that audiences would recognise from the filmic vistas of Goold’s Richard II.

Fortunately Shakespeare is not constrained by the straightjacket of slick BBC publishing. Henry IV part I is a play that needs no extra gloss; it contains his most-loved character in Falstaff and gives the audience, as Simon Schama pointed to in his recent documentary, a view of England from the bottom-up. This is in direct contrast to a Richard II that inhabited the world of kings and noble elites.

It’s also a play in which Shakespeare sketches out, in Prince Hal, the images that he would shade in later in one of his greatest creations, Hamlet – complete with two fathers (Falstaff and Henry IV pre-empting Claudius and the Ghost) and a play within a play (the great Act II Scene IV where Hal, in the guise of his Father, banishes Falstaff).

There is a seismic shift in language between Richard II and Henry IV. The world of Richard’s verse has been replaced by the more naturalistic prose of Henry Bolingbroke, now Henry IV. It serves to emphasise the working people that inhabit the play; the phrasing and speech reflects the way people actually talk to one another. It reflects a changing England; the shattering of Richard’s divine right and replaced by a, now frail and ill, Henry IV paranoid to the threat of conspirators. There is no place in this landscape for the playful verse that marked Richard II. This point is rammed home by Shakespeare through Harry Percy who ridicules and undercuts the fanciful imagery put forward by Glendower about his birth.

The core of Henry IV is not, of course, the King but his son, Prince Hal. Falstaff may steal the show but he is not the heart; the heart is the relationship of Hal to his two fathers, the King and the Fool, and the inevitable renunciation of the latter in order to safeguard the former.

In this production Eyre appears to have taken a very deliberate step to recast Hal and Falstaff’s relationship away from the loving underpinnings with which it is normally shown. It is usual to show a warmth and affection in Hal when he undercuts Falstaff’s numerous embellishments but here there is coldness in Tom Hiddleston’s Hal. This is introduced from the very opening scenes of the play and Hal’s speech where he talks of renouncing his way of life; it is delivered in voiceover and there is an added potency to lines like ‘So when this loose behaviour I throw off’ [I.ii] given out in contemptuous manner at the same time as Hiddleston’s Hal strides through the Boar’s Head. Outwardly he is smiling, winking, interacting, whilst his interior monologue makes clear he understands that he is just playing a part that will be discarded.

<<Continue to full review>>

BBC PR Fails No.2840

I  have much love for the BBC and will loudly and belligerently defend the licence fee against all the nay-sayers who seem to believe that if a multi-channel 24hr/365-day service isn’t absolutely dedicated  to their interests then the whole corporation should be abolished. Personally I think the £140 is a pittance for the level of service they provide and the BBC is one of the last remaining areas of British society in which we can be truly proud and that commands huge respect across the world.

However they really do not do themselves any favours.  Just a week after getting critical and commercial praise for its superb Richard II adaptation – which hugely increased the the interest in the whole cycle of their filmed versions of Shakespeare’s history plays – they have managed to unpick all of that good work with hugely incompetent scheduling made worse by a complete lack of communication to its audience that rivals banks and mobile phone customers in its disregard for its customers.

Now Wimbledon takes place every year and so it should perhaps have crossed the minds of schedulers that the finals may overrun. Perhaps if that is the case then contingency plans might have been put in place to manage the situation. Instead people tuning in to watch Henry IV part I – with A-grade stars Tom Hiddlestone, Simon Russell Beale and Jeremy Irons + a whole host more – were given no information as the Men’s Doubles came to an end.  Not even ‘the scheduled programme has been delayed, more information to come’. Given we were on the verge of a first British success since 1936 I can’t really complain about sticking with the tennis.

But seriously continuing with the tennis on BBC2 for the Ladies Doubles – what is the point of the red button if not for putting minor sport onto that?  And what did people tuning into the BBC’s flagship summer broadcasting get – about 40 minutes late we had John Inverdale haplessly stating that the production ‘may be on later, we’re not sure’ – well thanks John, that really cleared it up for us. Also why the hell was Casualty on BBC1? It may get higher audience ratings but surely it could get bumped for one week? One can only imagine what Lord Reith would have had to say about the way the Beeb have prioritised their  scheduling.

So BBC – by some miracle you had turned Shakespeare into watercooler TV and within a week you have already managed to shaft your own success through the general incompetence, poor management and dire communication that you have become famed for. I am sure your heir-apparent Director-General, George Entwhistle, who was responsible for the Shakespeare cycle must be absolutely delighted with your handling of this one.

For those who want to catch-up with Henry IV part I – it will apparently air on BBC4 tonight at 21.00 (no word on whether it will also be on either BBC HD channels)

Much more on the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked Season.