I really need to stop slacking off. My list of films that I’ve referenced on this blog but haven’t gotten around to currently has 330 movies, and that’s not even including any movies I’ve mentioned in the last week or so. So let’s bite the bullet and roll the digital equivalent of a 330-sided die! And we get… #138. That is… Henry V by Mr. Kenneth Branagh. I mentioned this in my Thor review, didn’t I? Good to know I’m predictable, at least. Anyway, let’s get Shakespearean up in here!
The story follows King of England Henry V (Branagh) as he declares sovereignty over France. The French do not take this lightly, so war erupts. After giving a triumphant speech, the British defeat the overwhelming numbers of the French army. Henry also gets the girl, French Princess Katherine de Valois (Emma Thompson). There are also several minor characters, but none of them are really important. The biggest impact they have on the story is that we see that Henry became a dick after taking the throne, turning his back on old friends. But not even that character flaw could keep him from being victorious, because I see Shakespeare’s histories as propaganda plays made specifically for the royal family (his comedies are for the average man, and his tragedies are for theater lovers).
I don’t want to sound like too much of an dunce, but the language in Shakespeare adaptations is always a hurdle for me. This is a pretty authentic adaptation–with some noticeable changes, I’ll get to those–so it uses archaic English in blank verse form. For plays that are more well known like Romeo & Juliet or MacBeth, this isn’t a problem; I know the general beats so I get the general story. But I’d never read Henry V before–I’m more of a blood tragedy sort of guy so Hamlet is my jam–so several of the asides just didn’t stick with me. Why is Christian Bale’s character important? What was Ian Holms’ role in the war? Was it actually important to have an entire scene in French just so we know why Princess Katherine is awkward around Henry? But all this is more the source material than the film itself.
That’s not to say that Branagh didn’t mix things up. One moment that really stood out to me early on is when Henry is talking with old friend John Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane, AKA Hagrid from Harry Potter). The king rebukes his old friend, but apparently does it telepathically? His thoughts are heard by those present, but his mouth never moves. What’s up with that? Well, long story short, that scene wasn’t in this play. Henry V is a sequel to two previous plays–Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2–where Falstaff is a recurring character. By the time Henry V is happening, Falstaff is sick and never actually appears in the play, dying off screen/stage. The sequence where Henry and Falstaff face each other in this movie is a mixture of scenes from both Henry IVs to show how the king has truly turned his back on his friends.
Another notable part of this adaptation is that Henry and Princess Katherine’s scene at the end has several comedic beats, which were amusing but kind of clashed with the rest of the film. What’s that? This was Branagh’s directorial debut? Yeah, that tracks. It appears to be a fine adaptation, but it’s not my favorite Shakespearean movie.
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