The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part One. B.B.C. Television Review.

Originally published by L.S. Media. July 11th 2012

L.S. Media Rating ****

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Julie Walters, Maxine Peake, Tom Georgeson, Simon Russell Beale, Alun Armstrong, Joe Armstrong, Harry Lloyd, Michelle Dockery, Robert Pugh.

If the first in the B.B.C.’s Hollow Crown adaptations of William Shakespeare’s history plays Richard II focused on the nature of chivalry in the time of noble kings, then the second, Henry IV, Part One focused on the story of what was too come. With an elderly Henry on the throne of England and with the playboy Prince of Wales taking up with thieves, robbers and undesirables in the taverns of Cheapside, it was more of an eye on how the boy, one of the best loved characters in Shakespeare and royal history, became the man he was to become.

Richard II asked what it was to be king then Henry IV asked what is was to be a man, to have the desire and the authority but also the hangers on who would sell you out as quick as take the honour from you.

This adaptation focused the duality of two men; Prince Hal and Sir Henry Percy, otherwise known as Harry Hotspur and their look at how it is to take over from an ailing father. Both men had very different ideas, one neglecting his wife’s counsel and the other acting as the roguish rake with history and fate about to be strung around his playboy shoulders. Both men were portrayed with vigour by two rising stars of British television and film. Prince Hal for all his charm, want and undeserving loyalty was beautifully captured by Thor star Tom Hiddleston and his adversary portrayed by Joe Armstrong who played such characters as as Alan A’ Dale in the recent B.B.C. version of Robin Hood and various bit parts finally found the meaty role that he was looking for having previously been denied his stature as an excellent actor.

Although the two men didn’t meet until very near the end of the tale, both carried the film along superbly. One of the final scenes of this magnificent piece of writing adapted by Richard Eyre saw the Prince and his counterpart sword fighting with more realistic attitude than was possibly thought of, especially when you consider the other versions.

What worked so well was the way that the filming actually makes use of nature, by taking it out of the confines of what would appear to be stage driven performances, the play suddenly becomes more real than even Kenneth Branagh managed in possibly the best Shakespeare adaption of Henry V.  The mud and the frost on the Shrewsbury Hill reminded the viewer that battles and history were, (nearly) always like this. War was dirty, you had to look a person in the eye to kill them and not have the safety of being 3,000 miles away.

The Hollow Crown continues on Saturday.

Ian D. Hall