Falstaff take centre stage as The Hollow Crown reveals its brutal truth

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part II – BBC 2

So Shakespeare continues on the BBC with Henry IV Part II and Falstaff discovering just how hollow the crown can be. It remains testament to Shakespeare’s talent that despite the clear danger of offending the monarchy he could write a play about kingship that would show it to be an undesirable burden that turns saviours into tyrants.

The old dying king, Henry IV, is laid bare before the audience; his noble persona stripped aware by a ravaging illness and worn down by the internecine rivalries of his nobles and the licentious behaviour of his heir. The regal nature of Jeremy Iron’s Henry has long since disappeared to be replaced by a solitary figure forced to send others to fight his wars and left to restlessly wander the palace at night exhorting that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” [III.i].

It is worth mentioning that Irons is magnificent as Henry IV – as it is a part often forgotten under the weight of the Hal/Falstaff relationship. Iron’s Henry captures the viewers’ attention with an exceptional understanding of verse speaking and bringing real intelligence to the dialogue. The great speech where he discovers Hal upon the throne and lashes out with “What! canst thou not forbear me half an hour? / Then get thee gone and dig my grave thyself” [IV.v] proves one of the real highlights of the series so far and brings just a glimpse of a potential King Lear – a  proposition that really does make the mouth water.

Tom Hiddleston’s Hal does not provide the tempting alternative that Shakespeare would later paint with far more grandeur in Henry V. As with last week, Hiddleston gives us a Hal that, for all his revelry and low-flung behaviour, is very much in control of his character. He may feel warmth to these people but he also is self-aware enough to retain a certain detachment as a king would his subjects. Hal is shown to be the kind of figure who would make a good king but possibly an even better tyrant.

Richard Eyre focusses on melancholy as the central theme of this production of Henry IV Part II. It is a melancholy centred around the relationships Falstaff has throughout the play which draw out his own tragic self-awareness that so often is hidden behind bluster. Simon Russell Beale gives us a Falstaff that continues to scheme but who is fatally unable to change his character and for whom the dead-hand of time continues to advance.

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Much more on BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked here


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.

Watch out George R. R. Martin, Shakespeare’s coming

The BBC certainly seem to have taken a leaf out of HBO’s book with their new preview trailer for their Shakespeare Unlocked series. Right down to the title ‘The Hollow Crown’ – a fabulously fantasy touch – they have gone out of their way to draw on the huge water-cooler success of Game of Thrones.

With season 2 drawing to a close on Sky Atlantic, it seems like the perfect opportunity to launch The Hollow Crown – four successive history plays from Richard II through to Henry V. The cast looks suitably stellar as every high-profile actor going has put themselves forward for some high profile thesping. The limited casting released on the BBC Website hints at the quality – Rory Kinnear, Tom Hiddlestone, Ben Wishaw and the mighty Patrick Stewart (getting the rights to one of Shakespeare’s most well known speeches in ‘this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle…’). 

And the trailer? Well isn’t this just mouthwatering.