“Wow! What an ending!”
Those were my words at the conclusion of Hollow Crown: Henry VI Part 1, the first episode in the second season of the outstanding Hollow Crown series. But more on that anon.
I could not have been more excited to begin the new Hollow Crown season, and I was not disappointed. Not in the least.
I am usually dissatisfied when screenwriters and directors make wholesale cuts in Shakespeare’s plays, but I find little to argue with in the result of telescoping Shakespeare’s 1 Henry VI and parts of 2 Henry VI into a single play (after all, 1 Henry VI is generally considered one of the Bard’s weakest plays, though it was a huge hit in its day). Sure, I missed some of my favorite lines (such as the king’s “Now God be praised” couplet in 2 Henry VI, II, 1). And sure, it was disorienting to have Somerset (ably played by Ben Miles) take over much of the Suffolk role in Margaret’s rise and Gloucester’s fall. And (at the risk of being politically incorrect, even racist, for saying so) in a production that otherwise seemed to care about historical accuracy, the wonderful Sophie Okonedo’s Queen Margaret took some getting used to, as no one in Henry VI’s court seemed at all surprised by a French princess with a British accent and a, er, um, different complexion from all the white folks surrounding her.
Nonetheless, the production is a triumph, as I expected. Hugh Bonneville’s Gloucester was pitch perfect. Tom Sturridge threaded the needle in his portrayal as a feckless but not completely unsympathetic Henry VI. Sophie Okonedo not only clearly relished her role but also burnished it. I don’t think there was a weak performance in the entire cast. The cinematography was excellent (except for the one weird, brief shot from a flying falcon’s shoulder). The relevance of the political intrigue and infighting–and Henry’s lines, “Civil dissension is a viperous worm / That gnaws the bowels of the commonwealth”–was striking to this American viewer. And the final shot, of young Richard III appearing and shambling forward in shadow? Simply brilliant.